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Construction is a booming industry. But women are hardly in the picture, making up only 2.6 percent of the field. The Women Can Build Career Fair in Hayward, California is trying to address this gender imbalance.
When’s the last time you saw a female construction worker? A female plumber? Turns out, there aren’t very many. People in the field say the gender gap has been an issue for decades. The shortage in women exists, despite the fact that construction jobs can pay up to 50 dollars an hour and don’t require a college degree. So now, there’s a big push to get more girls interested in the trades. Even as a reporter, people were trying to recruit me. And I did get my hands dirty with Venetian plaster.
“Am I doing this right?” I asked Bob Noto, who was there recruiting plaster apprentices.
“Yeah. Maybe put a little more pressure,” he told me.
“This is like painting. I’ve never done this before,” I said.
Standing there with a trowel in my hand, I have to admit I had fun. So did Jocelyn Cruz, a 17-year-old who attended the fair with her classmates from Mount Diablo High School.
“I just cut a piece of steel with fire and oxygen,” Cruz said.
Savannah Ysassi was one of Cruz’s classmates.
“My dad does plumbing. He’s always telling me about his job,” she said. So if she gets into the trade, she knows what to expect. I asked her what she thinks her biggest challenge might be, based on what she hears from her dad.
“Probably men would be the biggest obstacle,” said Ysassi. “Because they’re stronger. They get more opportunities in these types of jobs than women do.”
Another issue is sexual harassment—something the Department of Labor says 88 percent of women in the field experience. Angela Molina, who I found at the sheet metal booth, can testify to this. Molina has been a sheet metal worker for 30 years, and something of a pioneer in the field.
“I had to endure a lot. Back then women weren’t typically seen on a work site. So it’s like, what do I do about this? I had no one to talk to. I really didn’t have any example to follow. So I just kept it in,” she said.
Molina said the field is better than it used to be, but it’s still not great. That didn’t stop Natasha Pineda from diving in. She went from a job in retail to working in building maintenance, where she found herself making way more money.
“I was making over $80 grand a year. And you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m not even finished with my apprenticeship yet.’ It’s definitely a lucrative field,” said Pineda, a 32-year-old stationary engineering apprentice.
She will “graduate” from her apprenticeship next year and be fully certified. So she’s making 80 grand while she’s still taking classes, and she will graduate from her apprenticeship with no debt. Her immediate prospects are significantly different from those of most college graduates.
To 16-year-old Savannah Ysassi, that’s one reason to consider going into construction, despite the obvious challenges. “There’s not really a lot of opportunities for women to be able to do these types of jobs that are really great for our community,” she said.
So after a few hours testing out different construction tools, Ysassi and the other teen girls left the fair with one more job possibility in mind.