Construction Skills and Hands-on Experience Overview

This is an essential component in helping to level the playing field for women entering the construction industry.  With few exceptions, most women have had very little if any formal education or paid experience to prepare them for trades work.  Though many have experience fixing things around the house, the lack of guidance is evident in the fact that nearly all participants enter the program without any measuring skills beyond whole numbers.  Nor are they likely to have a clear understanding of the work performed by each trade or the names and uses of many tools.  In short, you could learn how to use a circular saw for the first time in your high pressure, all male apprenticeship class, or you can do it in the safe, supportive environment of TOP, where you will have the opportunity to make mistakes, practice and improve.

The goals of this section are to:

  • Expose students to a variety of construction trades careers, enabling them to determine which trades are the best match for their aptitudes, qualifications, and interests.
  • Reinforce or introduce basic skills common to all trades, including measuring, blue print reading, safety, tool identification and use, and drafting.
  • Provide sufficient hands-on experience and opportunities for accomplishment to build students’ confidence in their abilities.
  • Introduce students to tradeswomen mentors and provide them with the opportunity to learn first hand what it is like to be a female electrician, carpenter, etc.
  • Provide a realistic experience that aids students in evaluating their commitment to a construction career.

Clearly these goals can be accomplished through a variety of means depending on the resources available.   An efficient and effective strategy is to partner with apprenticeship programs to host hands-on field trips at their facilities.    The advantages of this strategy are important enough that, even if other resources exist, some field trips should be incorporated into your program.  First, it provides apprenticeship programs with the opportunity to represent their industry and engage with program participants.  If they deliver the message, they can be confident that important information has been communicated and that students have a realistic understanding of the pros and cons of their trade.   By the same token, participants interpret the act of hosting the class as evidence that a given program is sincere in its efforts to recruit female apprentices.  Moreover, familiarity with the school, the coordinator and/or staff, and the knowledge that they have received the information first hand, improves the likelihood that participants will have the confidence to follow through with an application.  Graduation from the program will also mean more to the apprenticeship program if their staff has had an opportunity to teach and work with the participants. Generally speaking, apprenticeship programs also have superior facilities and equipment, not to mention experienced instructors, making it possible for them to provide a higher quality, if time limited, hands-on experience.

Field trips generally take place on Saturdays from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm and ideally include an overview of the trade and apprenticeship program and an opportunity to participate in one or more hands-on activities under the guidance of tradeswomen working in that field.  Hands-on activities should introduce students to the tools of that trade, reinforce basic skills such as measuring, address safety concerns and give them a realistic feel for the work performed by that trade.  For that reason, CWIT always incorporates typical apprentice tasks such as material handling into the day.  Normally, class size requires that multiple activities with students rotating through stations until everyone has had an opportunity to do everything.   The schools are naturally accustomed to providing hands-on training and can help you determine which activities are best suited to your goals.

In addition, CWIT has a workshop facility which provides opportunity to offer workshops outside of what is available through apprenticeship partners as well as the opportunity to build on training introduced through a field trip.  Instead of a one day introduction to various trades, the program can provide participants with a more in-depth experience, integrate different trades into a single project and improve basic skill reinforcement.   Though experience is rarely a requirement for entering a given trade, lack of relevant skills and experience can derail new female apprentices who may lag behind their classmates and be given less challenging job assignments, further delaying acquisition of job skills.  If this portion of the class provides them with enough exposure and confidence to hit the ground running, it has served its purpose.  To ensure that they continue to progress, the program also offers skill building classes, mentorship and individual practice opportunities to women working in the trades.

Trades were selected for inclusion in the hands-on curriculum based on interest, employment outlook, practical considerations such as cost, and the likelihood that participants will be able to compete for openings.  We would include electrical work, then, because women are likely to be attracted to the trade but unlikely to have had any experience performing the work.  Moreover, the program is open for applications multiple times per year and accepts a larger than average number of applicants through an objective screening process.  Based on these criteria, the curriculum consistently includes hands-on workshops plumbing, pipefitting, carpentry, bricklaying and sheet metal working in addition to electrical work.  The program, however, is flexible enough to include other trades when opportunities become available, either through presentations by tradeswomen, field trips, or hands-on workshops.   Again, these choices are based on our  local experience, which may or may not be consistent with the needs of your area.