Massachusetts currently has the one of the highest statewide percentages of women in union apprenticeship at 9.5%. This is due to an increased focus on bringing in diverse new workers to meet hiring goals on MA projects. Many union apprenticeships have been bringing in more women each year, with larger programs, such as IBEW 103, welcoming 29 new women apprentices in 2019.
And then there was 2020. Since business as usual shut down in March 2020, apprenticeship classes and recruitment have been put on hold. As work and training ramps back up, we see many in industry being cautious about recruitment of new workers, diverse or otherwise. Right now, MA apprenticeship programs are holding steady at 9.5% women, but for how long? In order to sustain our progress through this trying time and beyond, we need to make sure that women, and our commitments to diversifying the building trades, are not left behind. We’ve seen the numbers drop significantly on some projects since the pandemic hit. We cannot allow the challenges of the pandemic to take our focus off diversity, and we must continue to push contractors to diversify their core crews, and start every job with a diverse workforce.
As you can see in the graph above, our integrated supply and demand strategy has worked to increase the number of women in apprenticeship each year, leveling off between 2019-20. We believe the trend has leveled, in part, because women who complete their apprenticeship and are continuing their careers as journeywomen are no longer counted in the apprenticeship figures.
However, there is no denying the significant impacts that COVID-19 will have on employment of the construction workplace, particularly for vulnerable and minority groups like women, apprentices, and Black and Brown workers. In regard to COVID safety, most Union General Contractors have set up policies to make the sites as safe as possible, but enforcement is difficult and can vary among sites and crews. Many construction workers still do not feel safe going to work, and this safety fear can have a disparate impact among women workers who may have more caretaking responsibilities for elderly or children. Normal barriers that face tradeswomen, including childcare, and sexism, are compounded by COVID workplace safety concerns and and COVID related school and daycare shutdowns.
The topic of race, once glossed over in pursuit of “colorblindness,” is now an open discussion topic in the American workplace. For those holding innate racist thoughts, or those unaccustomed to addressing race in a sensitive way, this heightened dialogue can include statements that are racist and abusive. Over the past few months, Black tradeswomen have reported being subject to slurs, physical assaults and other forms of harassment at work. The veil on racism has been lifted, and the bottom line is that women of color are simply not safe on job sites where anti-racism and anti-sexism education and training is not taking place.
We can help. PGTI/NCTE is hosting a webinar on September 16 that will touch on all of these issues, but “there is no silver bullet.” Just like it took multi-stakeholder collaboration to move the needle and get women into apprenticeship, we need stakeholders from all sides, including contractors, unions, apprenticeship programs, government entities and project owners, to invest in access to work in the trades for women and people of color for the long haul.
Here a few tangible things that must be done to retain the diverse workers we have worked so hard to recruit:
- Don’t bring back women and people of color last; get women onto sub-contractors core crews.
- Make sure you put in maximum effort to ensure a COVID safer workplace.
- Take an active, public stand against racism on your jobsites.
- Check in with your diverse apprentice and workers. These are hard times for everyone!
- Spread the word about childcare resources.
For a deeper dive into the some of the barriers, and solutions, to tradeswomen retention, join us for this webinar:
“Retention of Tradeswomen in the Time of Viruses: COVID-19 and Racism,”
Wednesday, September 16 from 4 – 5:30
The webinar will address:
Lack of work / Demand strategies
Lack of childcare / Care That Works
Heightened racial dialogues / Needed action steps
COVID-19 safety concerns / Tools for addressing COVID-safety challenges onsite
It will include stakeholder specific breakout room discussions for:
Rank and File Members, Apprenticeship & Union Staff, Contractors & End Users and Pre-Apprenticeships & Community Based Organizations.