Massachusetts triples national average for women in union construction apprenticeships

Women now comprise 10% of all union building trade apprentices in Massachusetts. This is among the highest figures in the country, tripling the national average and representing a two-fold increase since 2012.

“Reaching 10% women in apprenticeships is a huge accomplishment,” said Liz Skidmore, PGTI co-convener, and Business Representative and Organizer with the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters. “It represents amazing progress in increasing the supply of diverse tradespeople here in MA. Meeting this milestone right now, in the midst of the pandemic, shows that we not only recruited new women but also retained female apprentices during this incredibly challenging time.”

Across Massachusetts, women like Angela Lormeus, now an apprentice with Carpenters Local 339, started their apprenticeships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. She cites Tradeswomen Tuesday as her jumping-off point to an exciting new career. Before joining the Carpenters union, Angela did not have much experience in the trades; her background was in early childhood education. She was interested in applying to the Carpenters apprenticeship, but not sure how to navigate the career shift. After learning more at a Tradeswomen Tuesday, Angela decided to go for it. She applied for, and was accepted into, the Carpenters apprenticeship program.

“I am grateful to be employed during COVID, and I hope to seize the opportunities sent my way to learn my trade and become a well-rounded Carpenter,” Angela said.

“We are exceedingly proud of the strides we have made towards gender equity in the workforce here in Boston,” said Brian Doherty of MetroBTC. “10% is a great start, but there is still work to do. The building trades that have provided for so many Boston families over the years should be accessible to all. We need to maximize the opportunities for women and people of color to start family-sustaining careers in the building trades.”

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Doing It in Massachusetts: 9.8% Women Statewide

Seasons Greetings and A Gift of Data from PGTI

We’re doing it, comrades. The latest data report on Massachusetts women in apprenticeship should give PGTI allies and advocates something to smile about this holiday season.

In August 2020, PGTI published a call to action on our blog, urging our industry partners to stay steadfast and vigilant in the pursuit of tradeswomen retention throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, during an economic downturn, women are the first to be let go on construction job sites. When construction work dwindled during the 2008 recession, many women apprentices were left in the lurch; the industry wasn’t keeping them working so they left the trades for other jobs that could pay the bills.

Fortunately, that hasn’t happened this time. Thanks to the deliberate efforts of PGTI’s contractor and labor partners, the percentage of women in Massachusetts union apprenticeship is higher than ever. With 9.8% women in Massachusetts union apprenticeship programs, we have successfully retained our women apprentices throughout the tribulations of 2020. Even though the total number of apprentices in MA has dropped, we’ve actually seen an increase this year in the overall percentage of women in union apprenticeship. From 2013-2020, the percent of women in Massachusetts joint union apprenticeship programs has increased every year and despite the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, our steady progress remains unwavering.

How did we do it?

PGTI is a multi-stakeholder collaboration composed of contractors, unions, government entities, apprenticeship programs, tradespeople, and community groups working to develop, document and implement best practices to recruit and retain women in trade careers. 

The PGTI model of integrated supply and demand  asserts that getting and keeping women in the trades is more complicated than just training and apprenticeship (the supply side). To thrive in trade careers, women also need access to jobs and continuous employment (the demand side). This model requires commitment from stakeholders in multiple standpoints, and thus, we convene our multi-stakeholder collaboration on a bi-monthly basis and encourage members to “lead from where you are”, that is, for individuals to work within their sphere of influence to advance to shared goals.

PGTI  has encouraged the establishment of Access and Opportunity (workforce diversity monitoring) Committees by end users on Targeted Projects worth over 6.5 billion dollars. In tandem with other best practices designed to create demand for diverse workers, such as Project Labor Agreements, our targeted projects have been key drivers of the demand for tradeswomen in MA.

In addition, PGTI has supported the participation of women in Pre-Apprenticeship programs across the state of MA, and launched the Build A Life That Works  tradeswomen outreach campaign in partnership with the Metro Building Trades Council, The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and other partners. 

In 2016, PGTI set the goal of 20% tradeswomen by 2020. As the nationwide percentage of women in apprenticeship was under 3% at that time, we hoped the lofty 20% target would spur progress after years of minimal progress under more moderate goals. This goal and our hashtag #20percentby2020 have been adopted by tradeswomen groups and advocates across the US, and have become a rallying cry for PGTI partners in our pursuit of tradeswomen’s equity.

As we close out 2020 with 9.8% of women in apprenticeship statewide, we are proud to have made it halfway to the Mount Everest goal of 20% by 2020. Halfway up Everest is quite an achievement. We offer sincere gratitude to all who have contributed to this mission, even when it wasn’t easy. The collective power of PGTI has moved mountains. We took on 2020’s retention challenge together, and we won. Imagine what is in store for the next decade as we move to our new rallying cry, #20percentnow.

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PUBLIC SECTOR OWNERS IN MASSACHUSETTS: 6.9% women’s participation in the construction workforce is the law.

The Attorney General’s Office has issues FAQs that describe the requirements and provide citations to the relevant bid laws. 

“All contracts by a state agency or state-assisted contracts for design, construction, reconstruction, installation, demolition, maintenance or repair must contain workforce participation goals for minorities and women. The goals are 6.9% of workforce hours for women and 15.3% for minorities.”

The Department of Labor Standards has also amended their webpages on Prevailing Wage notices and Prevailing Wage statutes to include the following language:

“Awarding authorities are reminded that state contracts and state-aided contracts must also include the processes and procedures to ensure compliance with statutory Workforce Participation Goals, including reporting and enforcement provisions, for women and minorities. G.L. c. 149, § 44A(2)(G).”

Most awarding authorities have remained ignorant of gender diversity requirements and thousands- or more-  of women have been excluded from opportunities for good jobs in the construction trades since passage of the 1998 law that required the Commonwealth to “develop and implement …a comprehensive plan to eliminate discrimination against and to increase the number of female construction workers at state construction projects.”

We have provided Technical Assistance to industry stakeholders for over a decade, most recently through the Office of the Inspector General. Email us if you would like to discuss customized TA for an awarding authority or contractors.

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Women in Apprenticeship hold steady at 9.5%, but for how long?

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.

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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.

Register here:

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PGTI Disparity Study proves women are available and willing to enter the trades in Central MA

On August 2, the Worcester Sunday Telegram published an article supporting greater diversity in the construction trades. The three authors, a leader in the Carpenters Union and two union contractors, point to PGTI’s Worcester Workforce Disparity Study to document the the low numbers of women and people of color who are currently working in the trades across the region. That study also proved that the diverse workforce is available. As the authors describe, “In Worcester, several projects are modeling commitments to access and equity in construction.” These include the Polar Ballpark, a new courthouse and the Central Massachusetts YMCA. These model projects are succeeding because they have made the commitment to diversity and are applying Best Practices for hiring and retaining women and people of color.

Included in the authors’ action steps is:

“Eliminate race and gender pay gaps among the trade’s workforce, and ensure living wages and benefits are paid by using union contractors who pay every worker equally according to their apprentice or journey-level. Fair, living wages bring additional consumer spending power and broader economic benefit to our communities at a time when it is even more needed.”

Keep it up, Worcester and the Central Mass unions!

A downloadable copy of the article is available here.

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