By Joan Runnheim Olson
Over a decade ago, I began my journey helping females and males consider non-traditional careers. I worked for a St. Paul, MN-based non-profit helping women enter and succeed in blue collar jobs in the trades. My role was to assess women's readiness to enter the six-week pre-apprenticeship training program and then help them find jobs once they finished.
I conducted lengthy interviews to determine their level of interest in working in the trades. We found that a few women were merely interested in learning skills to help them work on their own home. Because the non-profit I worked for received grants with goals and outcomes tied to it, it was important to carefully screen potential participants and identify those that had a sincere desire to work in the trades. Plus, the pre-apprenticeship program was designed to help graduates jump into an apprenticeship program.
Because males grow up knowing the different tools and how to use them, the pre-apprenticeship program helped women get up to speed so that they could be successful in an apprenticeship program. The women who moved into the training program were educated on tool identification, participated in strength-building through weight-lifting, brushed up their math skills, worked on a project where they could actually use their hands to build a house.
Oftentimes, they worked on a Habitat for Humanity house. Participants learned about the challenges that come with being in a male-dominated industry. Training also included tips on job search strategy. During the last week of the program, we invited employers from the construction industry and union representatives to serve on a panel for what we called "Job Leads Day." Panelists explained what they were looking for in an employee, how to get a job in the trades, what to expect, etc.
Many of the females that completed the pre-apprenticeship program enrolled into a technical college program for carpentry or electrician. Others went directly into an apprenticeship program. Some graduates of the pre-apprenticeship program eventually became carpenters, electricians, laborers, cement masons, or roofers.
One of the key things I noticed about these women is that they wanted a job that was physical. They enjoyed working with their hands creating something. This type of work is what they found the most satisfying. I think that's what we all want - a career that brings us satisfaction. That satisfaction can mean something different to different people. The key is figuring out what it is that you enjoy doing the most and pursuing it!