State Grants Hopeful to Introduce More Women to Skilled Trades

State grants aim to get more women in hard hats

Star Tribune January 11, 2015


$475,000 will go toward training in fields traditionally male-dominated

"...Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis received $72,450 to help women earn associate’s degrees in construction, computers and manufacturing. In Rochester, the Workforce Development Center will spend $71,000 certifying women in welding and computer controlled machining (CNC).

Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the grants target low-wage women or those over age 50 who want in on some of Minnesota’s highest-growth industries. The new program should slim the gender wage gap, where women earn just 80 cents for every $1 a man earns.

“Today, about 40 percent of the gender pay gap is attributed to women doing different work from men and the lower value placed on female-dominated work,” Clark Sieben said. “[Many of the] greatest growth and highest paying fields are typically dominated by men. … Women are not well represented in these occupations.”

To change that, armies of educators and students are getting to work. The pounding was deafening Tuesday at Goodwill’s construction training facility in St. Paul, where two licensed contractors guided the chaos on the second day of class.

Porter, St. Paul resident McKenzie Reynolds and 10 other construction newbies banged hammers and cranked crowbars to disassemble the roofs, siding and walls from two “demonstration” houses. The students will rebuild those same houses this week.

“At this point, it’s just important to get them comfortable using hand and power tools,” said coach Anna Wright. “They are here in the [construction lab] for six weeks and then go onto the actual building site, where they build real houses.”

In between, trainees will meet with employment counselors, visit bricklayers and other firms looking for long-term apprentices. They also will select a specialty trade to study further.

Crystal resident LeeAnne Stevens, 32, and a single mother of four, can’t wait. She will spend the next six weeks learning to pour concrete and tie rebar, thanks to the state grant. The training opportunity came at the right time, said Stevens, a former Electrolux refrigerator assembler who was forced to leave her job and go on welfare when her child care fell through. But now she has steady help from her mother and is ready to learn new skills.

“I wanted something that would pay me enough that I would not have to depend on anyone else. So I came here and said, ‘Let’s do this,’ ” Stevens said.

Such training is needed, said Sarah Richards, CEO of Jones Metal Products Inc., the Mankato factory that machines parts for nuclear submarines, nuclear power plants and electric generators.

Richards is delighted the state is helping Rochester and Dunwoody women learn machining, robotics, welding and other skills badly needed by factories like hers. “There is a tremendous gender gap,” she said.

“We are 100 percent men in our front-line manufacturing operations,” Richards said. “A lot of women gravitate to the quality positions but they are just not CNC [computerized robot] operators, or welders or machinists. They are not the ones with the welding torch in their hand,” even though welding and machining jobs often pay $18 to $30 an hour.

“There are still societal stereotypes that keep girls from pursuing some fields that naturally pique their interest.”

Richards hopes to change that. This month, she’s hiring her first female machinist intern from South Central College.

“I am so excited she is here. I want her to work here full time,” Richards said. “There is a lot of good going on around this new [statewide] effort. If we could just get a good core group of women started here, then I think that things start to take off.”

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