It is a well-known fact that construction has a history of being a male-dominated field. In fact, women make up only 11% of the construction workforce in the United States. For women like Patricia, the ability to see herself using power tools and hammers was a process of unlearning cultural norms.
Growing up Patricia only saw men in her family building things. “We thought we weren’t allowed to touch [tools], it’s men’s business” Patricia said.
In February 2022, Patricia became one of three women and one of eleven participants to begin their journey toward becoming a construction apprentice. Through a partnership with the Literacy Center of West Michigan, West Michigan Construction Institute, and West Michigan Works!, the Construction Pre-Apprenticeship ESL program is a starting point for Englishlanguage learners to work in the construction field.
“One of the things that I love,” Patricia said, “[is that the class is] very diverse. You have people from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, LA… I feel like I belong there.”
This class is a part of the Literacy Center’s Integrated Education and Training (IET) model, where an English language instructor co-teaches with a skilled training instructor. In this case, the Literacy Center provides the English instruction and West Michigan Construction Institute provides a certified Construction Core trainer. The goal is for learners to receive a nationally recognized credential at the end of the class.
“I love the class,” Patricia says. “I am acquiring new skills. Often times I hear my parents say that we should always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn new skills.” She goes on to say, “the program is working out well for everybody. It’s fun, we have the lecture part and the hands on part of the class. We have started building a storage shed as one of the projects in class, it’s very fulfilling to see how it’s coming along.”
The program is set to finish at the end of May and employers are already interested in hiring the participants. The employer partners, which include Allied Mechanical, Buist Electric, Windemuller, and Wolverine Building Group, were all part of the planning and development of this project.
For the employers, this class is an opportunity to hire untapped sources of talent. But for people like Patricia, this is a transformative experience. Patricia envisions seeing more women learning these types of skills whether they apply them in their own home, pursue a career in construction or even start their own business.
“When we get to the practice part of the class and I put the tool belt and Personal Protection Equipment on, it just feels great… It’s just deconstructing the negative beliefs I had as a female that I could actually do this. You do feel empowered.”
Patricia is grateful for having the opportunity to be part of this program that is supporting women who want to grow in this field of construction.