Training and Retention

Though it is difficult to obtain sufficient data to thoroughly analyze women’s retention in the industry, CWIT’s retention study, entitled Breaking New Ground: Worksite 2000, highlights many of the challenges which limit women’s participation and advancement in the industry. The over 200 tradeswomen surveyed identified issues such as sexual harassment (83%), unfair hiring and lay-off practices (44%), and lack of on-the-job training (54%) as significant barriers that caused them to leave or question their ability to remain in the industry. These and other issues, continue to determine a woman’s ability or desire to complete apprenticeship and continue in a construction career.   The following guidance and resources will help address:’

  • Being prepared to succeed in apprenticeship
  • Equitable practices for classroom and on-the job training
  • Inequities in hiring and layoffs
  • Isolation/Lack of Support
  • Sexual harassment, micro-inequities and exclusionary work practices
  • Creating female and family friendly worksites
  • Lack of opportunity for advancement

Being Prepared to Succeed in Apprenticeship

Pre-Apprenticeship Training prepares women to become competitive candidates for entering and succeeding in apprenticeship and other NTO and these programs can be effective partners in recruiting and supporting women with the tools they need become successful apprentices. CWIT’s own program is typical, providing math and basic construction skills, physical conditioning, career exploration and hands-on experience in a variety of trades along with preparation for the culture and challenges of the construction workplace. These programs give women the opportunity to build the technical skills and understanding needed to succeed, allow each participant to explore and choose the career path that best suits their interests and talents and provides a welcoming introduction to the industry and a safe and supportive place to break through stereotypes and build confidence in her skills and ability to negotiate an unfamiliar and, for many, intimidating work environment.

Many apprenticeship programs have established their own pre-apprenticeship programs to prepare new apprentices for the worksite.  This can be a best practice for women who benefit from training that familiarizes them with the work and gives them the opportunity to practice and build their technical skills. But, given that women applying to apprenticeship are not often a typical candidate (young people who may have the financial support of their parents), the hardship involved in attending a lengthy, full-time, unpaid pre-apprenticeship program, can be an insurmountable barrier that puts the trade out of their reach. Consider holding classes part-time in the evenings or providing a stipend or wage for pre-apprentices that is sufficient to allow them to meet their financial obligations and focus on their training.

Whether offered by an apprenticeship program or a community based organization or educational institution, a typical curriculum for pre-apprenticeship training will include lessons on:

Resources to support pre-apprenticeship training may be available through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act through American One Stop Career Center, the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. More information on how WIA dollars can support your program is available here or through the Federal Resources Playbook for Registered Apprenticeship.

Equitable Practices for Classroom and On-The-Job Training

It is important to develop both a classroom and OJT culture that provides equitable opportunity for all students to build the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. “Inclusive and Equitable Classroom Training Guidelines” offers tips for understanding gender differences in learning and gender differences in communication. Paying attention to the following will help ensure an equitable classroom and OJT environment:

Gender Differences In Learning – Females prefer learning experiences that:

  • They help design
  • Are learner centered and engage them in the group
  • Structured opportunities for feedback on drafts. not just the final product
  • Focus on the process/de-emphasize competition.

Female students may be impacted by lack of confidence, low self-esteem or the effect of: “Stereotype threat” – (being at risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group) – or imposteritis (add definition). Instructors and journeyworkers can counter these negative views and assumptions by emphasizing that ability is expandable, effort and process matter, and learning comes from mistakes.

Guidelines for Teaching in an Inclusive Manner

  • Provide equal attention, feedback, criticism and praise to all students
  • Provide opportunities for male and female students to work together on (and lead) small group projects.
  • Be consistent in student achievement expectations, grading, dress, discipline, behavior and duties.
  • Don’t overlook capable but quiet students.
  • Include a variety of lesson models that support different learning styles
  • Increase wait time you allow for students to formulate an answer
  • Do not ask female students to perform activities you would not request of male students or vice versa.

Gender Differences in Communication Styles

Female students are more likely than male students to use the communication styles listed below. Studies show that students exhibiting these female gendered traits are perceived as less rigorous in their ability to think critically, less informed and lacking in intellectual sophistication.

  • give their statements less loudly, and at less length
  • present their statements in a more hesitant, indirect, or “polite” manner
  • use “I” statements (“I guess…” “I was wondering if…”)
  • qualify their statements (“sort of” “I guess”)
  • add “tag” questions (“isn’t it?” “don’t you think?”)
  • ask questions rather than give statements
  • use intonations that turn a statement into a question
  • accompany their statements with smiles or averted eyes rather than more assertive gestures, such as pointing
  • apologize for their statements (“I may be wrong, but…”)

Marginalized Women and Apprenticeship Training: Investigating a High-Support Model provides additional resources.

Inequitable On-the-Job Training

In addition to the normal training limitations imposed by the scope of work performed by the company, female apprentices complain that they are often relegated to the least skilled tasks (cleaning, organizing, material handling, etc.) and may encounter resistance to requests for more relevant training. Setting standards for on-the-job training and carefully monitoring apprentices’ work assignments and attainment of competencies is essential to developing the skilled workers the trade needs and invests heavily in building. This can be a conundrum for female apprentices.  On the one hand, they are not allowed to quit and don’t want to get fired because they need the job. On the other hand, if they journey out with skills that are limited to organizing the tool box and sweeping the floor, they have no future in the trade.  Below are some ideas for supporting apprentices in your program.

  • Set standards for on-the-job training and carefully monitor apprentices’ work assignments and attainment of competencies. Review apprentices prior to their transition to the next year of their apprenticeship and conduct an “exit interview” upon completion.
  • Prepare journey workers and supervisors on effective gender inclusive and neutral teaching practices for “Inclusive and Equitable OJT” worksites using best practice guidelines
  • Assign female apprentices to a mentor
  • Hire women and minorities in leadership positions, as project superintendents, engineers, supervisor and crew leaders.


Inequities and Discrimination in Hiring and Layoffs

CWIT and other advocacy organizations around the country observe that, while women graduate from apprenticeship in only slightly lower percentages than men, they are more likely to drop out of the trades just a few years after they graduate. Lack of consistent employment is also the primary reason why women fail to graduate from apprenticeship. Women can find it difficult to find and keep stable employment in the industry, impeding the accrual of hours needed to meet apprenticeship requirements and impacting their level of skill attainment. While federal, state and local EEO laws and affirmative action goals, are designed to promote hiring of women and other underrepresented populations and address discrimination, these regulations only govern publically funded projects, and even then there is often limited enforcement or attention paid to the goals. Women often report that they are not hired when there is no goal or enforcement, or once a public project is completed or goals have been met, they are laid off.

Gender bias and discrimination limit employment opportunities, as do other factors that govern or inform hiring practices and ultimately have a disparate impact on women. These include Implicit bias or decisions based on personal connections, word of mouth or comparisons to previous female employees. It is imperative to monitor apprentices’ employment, watching for disparity in hiring and lay-off practices for women. Apprenticeship programs can be pro-active in working with contractors to raise awareness of the issue and help them create equitable worksites.

Isolation and Lack of Support

Many women still report that they are the only woman on a job and face not just isolation, but a lack of support from male coworkers. This can be complicated especially during apprenticeship when women face unfamiliar work environments, still have limited skills and understanding of the expectations and norms of the industry, and few established relationships.  Below are some tools for promoting women’s inclusion in the industry.

(1) CWIT’s report, Breaking New Ground offers recommendations for employers, unions and apprenticeship programs on establishing guidelines for equitable workplace environments that promote respect and inclusion. Conduct training for supervisory personnel and workers on how to foster and support a workplace that is culturally competent, respectful and inclusive.

(2) Professional development activities for apprenticeship staff and sponsors on “building cultural competency” can raise awareness of how beliefs about and treatment of women in the trades impact retention. This training complements EEO/AA policies by providing personnel a set of tools, knowledge and skills to take into the classroom, a Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), and the worksite.

(3) Formal mentorship programs, job coaches, and regular opportunities to check in with an apprenticeship director or instructor can combat the isolation. Mentoring is critical to facilitate relationship building and help tradeswomen navigate their careers, build skills, develop coping strategies, and solve issues as they arise. Mentorship can and should take many forms, including assignment to a journey-level worker on the job and connection to other women in the apprenticeship program/union or gender specific committee. Here are some great resources to get you started.

(4) Create or connect women to a tradeswomen’s committee or support group. Establishing and engaging tradeswomen in informal and formal groups offers numerous ways for tradeswomen to get peer support and act in a unified manner to promote best practices for retention. These support groups can be informal, virtual or more formal committees and can:

  • Promote the trade to women and support union/apprenticeship staff in outreach.
  • Provide mentoring and support for each other.
  • Identify issues, propose and advocate for solutions.
  • Foster women’s increased representation and leadership in apprenticeship and union activities.
  • Offer sample contract language or policy for training programs to promote equitable and family-friendly practices.
  • Host conferences, meetings and social activities.

Sexual Harassment, Micro-Inequities and Exclusionary Work Practices

Sexual harassment happens in all worksites, but can be especially pervasive in a male-dominated environment. Establishing and disseminating policy that lays out guidelines for preventing, reporting and redressing sexual harassment is primary, but good policy will also be supported by a strong education program to raise awareness of all workers about what it is, how to stop it and what to do if you experience or witness it. Including sexual harassment prevention training in the apprenticeship curriculum and training contractors in creating harassment free worksites can help to set expectations and create respectful environments that benefit not just women but all apprentices.

Microinequities are the behaviors, practices, statements, and/or actions that in many cases may be unintentional and without malice, and that, taken individually might seem slight or minor, but can cumulatively constitute severe or pervasive harassment when they are a consistent part of the work environment. Also referred to as micro-aggressions, these behaviors may not rise to the level of overt discrimination or harassment, but can still have a deleterious impact over time on underrepresented groups, causing them to feel excluded and unsupported in the apprenticeship program and on the worksite, which negatively affects retention.  For equal employment opportunity standards and policies to be effective in retaining women, shifts in behavior and practices are required. Even when apprenticeship personnel are willing to adhere to such policies, they may not have the experience or training necessary to act in a culturally competent manner. Training on cultural competency complements EEO/AA policies by providing personnel and apprentices a set of tools, knowledge and skills to take into the classroom and the worksite.

Supporting Women’s Success in the Building Trades goes beyond just preventing harassment.   Women in the workplace greatly benefit from male allies, who understand the issues and can effectively work to change attitudes that are detrimental to women’s acceptance in the industry.  Use this tool and training on Becoming an Ally to Tradeswomen to build support for tradeswomen in the apprenticeship program, on the job site and in the union.

Problems will arise, so make sure apprentices know where to get help if they experience difficulties. This could be an apprentice rep, the apprenticeship coordinator, an apprentice liaison, apprenticeship instructors, a job steward, an employee assistance program or a mentorship program. Women experiencing challenges on the job site are, for a variety of reasons, often reluctant to call attention to themselves or don’t want to rock the boat by complaining to apprenticeship program staff or supervisors.   Be sure apprentices are informed of the proper channels for seeking assistance and are provided with a safe space to air their concerns and explore solutions.

Creating Female and Family Friendly Apprenticeship and Worksites

Creating female and family friendly apprenticeship programs and worksites can make the industry attractive to all workers, especially those with primary caretaking responsibility for children, or sick and aging relatives. It allows for everyone to benefit from standardized practices that all workers can take advantage of in relation to personal hygiene and when it comes to balancing both work and family. Guidelines on the following issues can be embedded in human resource policies, apprenticeship agreements and union/employer contracts.

Pregnancy and maternity leave during apprenticeship

Many pregnant tradeswomen may be able to work through much of their pregnancy, but others may require temporary accommodations to protect their health and safety on the job, particularly pregnant workers in physically demanding, inflexible, or hazardous jobs. The Supreme Court’s recent holding in Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. requires workplace accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in many instances. Accordingly, apprenticeship programs and employers should make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related conditions, both as required to avoid discrimination on the basis of pregnancy under Young v. UPS, and also to demonstrate support for women’s retention and advancement in the skilled trades.

Personnel policies that address work/family/caregiver responsibilities

Apprentices with caregiving responsibilities may find themselves challenged by less favorable scheduling or assignments based on assumptions of caregiving responsibilities outside of work.   Apprentices with parental responsibilities may not be able to adjust their schedules at the end of a regular shift to fulfill an overtime assignment, without advance notice. As a result they may be judged less favorably or denied future opportunities for a similar assignment. Apprentices with parental responsibilities or other family care may be “docked” pay for taking time to fulfill caregiving duties while other apprentices are not similarly penalized for taking time off for activities that are not related to caregiving responsibilities, such as attending a court date. Clear and specific guidelines can standardize the approach to these situations for all workers.

Sanitary Facilities

The availability and cleanliness of restroom facilities are a major concern for tradeswomen. “Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection” known as the HASWIC Report, found that temporary facilities on worksites are usually unisex, often without privacy, and are generally not well maintained. Sometimes there are no sanitary facilities available for women to use. Due to the lack of facilities, women report that they avoid drinking water on the job, risking heat stress and other health problems. Courts have found that the lack of appropriate sanitary facilities is discriminatory and violates OSHA standards. Unclean facilities can result in disease as well as urinary tract infection (for those who delay urinating rather than using such facilities). The HASWIC Report recommended, among other things, that gender-separate, enclosed, external and internal locking sanitary and changing facilities be provided on worksites, that employees be allowed to use such facilities as needed and be provided keys for gender appropriate facilities, that the toilet facilities be maintained in a sanitary condition and in good repair (e.g., with working locks), that clean toilet paper be provided within reach of the toilet, and that hand washing facilities be located within close proximity to toilet facilities to ensure privacy between the sexes and support safety and health measures.


Lack of Opportunity for Advancement

Women want and need to have the same opportunities for advancement in the skilled trades, including moving into leadership positions on the job, in the union, and in the apprenticeship program. Promoting career pathways and encouraging women’s advancement through mentorship, coaching and leadership development activities and trainings are vital. Be intentional in promoting, convening and supporting attendance at conferences for tradeswomen, which offer a chance to learn survival and success skills in a safe environment from their peers.  Check out Women Build Nations, the IBEW Electrical Minority Caucus, Carpenter’s Sisters in the Brotherhood.