By Katie Connell,
Communications Director at Building Advantage
From apprentices to company owners and every career path in between, women are making their mark on Milwaukee’s commercial construction industry. Diversity is essential for every company and industry to grow, and this week, the industry is coming together to support and promote the role of women in construction.
The theme of the National Association of Women in Construction’s 2022 Women in Construction Week is “envision equity,” something union labor knows a lot about. Equity is at the heart of every union trade’s hiring practices, wages and career opportunities. With a changing workforce environment, now is the time for many women to explore a new career path. Registered apprenticeship is truly an “earn as you learn” career opportunity. They are completely funded by union members, which means you have zero education-related debt and graduate with a trades degree.
The union trades offer competitive wages, excellent health care, retirement benefits and safe, comprehensive training and support during apprenticeship and throughout a person’s career. A career in construction is incredibly rewarding for those that have a passion for building. As Michele Robinson, an electrician and apprenticeship instructor, says, “I wanted to build, not sit at a desk. This career is fun, and I have a level of ownership, belonging, and pride from working in this city and having a literal hand in building its skyline.”
WRTP|BIG STEP, an industry workforce partner, provides a starting point for individuals interested in the trades. “At WRTP|BIG STEP we work every day to raise women’s success in apprenticeship through mentorship, coaching and guidance to build the necessary networks to support women in the trades,” says Lindsay Blumer, WRTP|BIG STEP CEO. “Through our Disrupt-HER! Consortium we create more robust and innovative pathways to and through apprenticeship for women and we’re proud to stand with our partners in this important work.”
Like their successful Women in Construction panel and hands-on event last weekend, WRTP|BIG STEP is actively promoting the benefits of apprenticeship and a trades career for women.
As the saying goes, empowered women empower women. Milwaukee-based women’s group, EmpowHER, supports a changing construction industry by helping women to navigate their role on the job site, their path to leadership and the transition that will take place in the industry as more women continue to fill “seats at the table.” In early 2019 the group had its first meeting under the leadership of several tradeswomen and construction professionals. Since then, the organization has quickly grown to include Southcentral and Northeastern chapters.
“We’re so proud of the organization’s growth and we’re excited to move the needle on increasing women in construction throughout Wisconsin,” says Tracey Griffith, EmpowHER board member and Director of Outreach & Partnerships for Walbec Group. “EmpowHER is developing initiatives in the industry that will support women in construction and make this path a viable choice for anyone looking for a rewarding and well-paying career.”
This week, the industry is gathering for “Connecting to Build” a networking event and roundtable that celebrates the achievements of local tradeswomen and provides resources and mentorship opportunities for attendees. The event’s sponsorship donations will fund attendance for select women to travel to the Tradeswomen Builds Nations Conference in Las Vegas in October.
“It’s important that tradeswomen build a supportive sisterhood,” says Kilah Engelke, OPCMIA 599 Business Agent and founding member of EmpowHER. “Events like this allow tradeswomen to connect, share their stories, start mentorships and rally for an awesome opportunity to send women to industry events.”
There is no doubt that we need more tradeswomen in our area. Promotion of this career path at all age levels and a positive and uplifting support system is the key to increasing the number of women in the field and retaining those individuals. Though this is only a week-long event, Wisconsin’s commercial construction industry is working every day to recruit and support women in construction.
For more information about a career in construction and upcoming events, visit buildingadvantage.org.