Rebecca White, Building Futures 2017 graduate and electrician apprentice with IBEW 99 talks about apprenticeship, women in the trades, and career opportunities in commercial construction.
Why Consider a Career in the Trades?
Careers in the trades offer excellent wages, health benefits, and retirement earnings. The average starting wage for an apprentice is $22 per hour. Once you’ve finished your apprenticeship (3-5 years, depending on the trade), you can look forward to much higher wages, with journey workers on average, earning $39 per hour plus full health care and retirement contributions.
On average, women earn less than men, despite over a hundred years of demands for equal pay for equal work. Women earn 82% of what men earn, and that wage gap widens for women of color, with Black women earning just 62% and Latina women earning 54% of men’s annual earnings. But that wage gap narrows when it comes to construction. Women working in the trades take home, on average, 96% of what men earn. Women in the trades bridge the wage divide more than an in any other field.
Underrepesented, Not Undervalued
Unions and construction companies alike know how important it is to have women working in construction, and are actively looking for women to join their ranks. Yet women make up just 3% of field construction work nationally. It’s not unusual for tradeswomen in Rhode Island to be the only woman on a jobsite, or among a very few women, and that can be challenging, especially for women apprentices first going to work.
“My advice to women starting in the field: know what you’re doing it for. Because as a woman you have to have a certain mind frame and a certain focus… you have to be extremely focused and know what you’re there for. Show up. Do your job. And do it ten times better than anybody else has ever done it.”
-Vennicia Kingston, Journeyworker Laborer, Building Futures Graduate
A Rewarding Career
Despite the challenges, for so many women, working as a skill trades person is a rewarding career path.
“I’ve always been a hand-ons type of person. I’ve always wanted to be a thinker. I always wanted things to be different, to challenge me every day. I could never see being a behind a desk, dealing with papers. In the trades, you’re always learning. It’s always something different.
“I like being able to walk into a building or anywhere, and know so much about the process. Like even the Pawtucket Bridge, when I ride by it. I was there from the first footing going in to the groundbreaking at the end. So I built that bridge, and when I drive by it, I remember that. The FM Global building, when I go by there, I remember all the fun that we had. And I was in there from the demolition, so when I go back by and see it now I’m able to see the proces of how we built it. And to know that you had a part in it.”
– Vennicia Kingston