Building Women Construction Career Fair Demolishes Gender Myths

Electricians & IBEW Local 401 sisters Michelle Abell and Nicole Perez. Photo credit: Sabrina Moberly.
Electricians & IBEW Local 401 sisters Michelle Abell and Nicole Perez. Photo credit: Sabrina Moberly.


The future may be female, but those building it—at least as of this writing—are still mostly male. The annual Building Women Career Fair, hosted by the Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinators Association (NNACA) and sponsored by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada and the State of Nevada’s Office of Workforce Innovation is set on changing that by hammering away at the myths that keep women from pursuing careers in construction.

“Women have proven again and again that they’re just as hardworking and capable, and in some cases even outperform, men in the building trades,” says NNACA trades apprenticeship recruiter Dian VanderWell, “but nobody’s telling young women that. The myth still persists that it’s a career most suited to men, or that the trades aren’t a progressive career option for women.”

The career fair is part of National Apprenticeship Week. Virtual reality stations and hands-on building activities in trades like welding, sheet metal, and pipefitting give attendees a chance to interact with equipment and safely sample the on-the-job experience of activities like painting a room or welding pipe. Local tradeswomen will be on hand to answer questions about what it’s really like to be a woman working in construction and to help interested women navigate the application process for paid apprenticeships they can start right out of high school—or at almost any age.

Despite the construction’s industry’s paid training, high wages, and good benefits, the national average of women working in the trades is still at just under 10%—but that needle is beginning to move. Most tradeswomen report that they’ve often been the only woman on a given job site, but are starting to see more of their female counterparts—referred to in trade unions as sisters—on the job. In some areas, all-female work crews have been spotted, and Habitat for Humanity has begun assembly all-female construction crews in some areas. And women-owned construction companies are on the rise. It’s estimated that within ten years, women will comprise as much as 25% of the construction workforce.

Last month, more than 2,000 tradeswomen from around the world gathered in Seattle for the 8th Annual Women Build Nations Conference—the third largest gathering of union members in the U.S. VanderWell, who attended the conference to learn what tradeswomen need to be successful, and to bring home ideas for recruiting more of them, says the mass of tradeswomen gathered in one place to help each other was inspiring. “These women are coming together not just at the conference, but in tight-knit women’s trades associations in their local areas, to help each other go further in their careers and navigate some of the challenges. I’d like to see a group for tradeswomen in Northern Nevada gain traction. It’s been clear at our previous events that women of all ages are interested in these careers, but there’s still a barrier to tear down in getting them to take the step to apply.”

Robert Benner, business agent for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, top sponsors of the annual Construction Career Day in Reno, agrees. “Yes it’s starting to change, but it’s still challenging to be a woman in the building trades, and we’ve got to keep working at making the environment supportive of women. We do that in part by bringing more women into these fields, having more women on our job sites, and then getting them on the path to leadership and fully supporting them in that.”

WHAT: Building Women Career Fair
WHERE: TMCC Applied Technology Center, 475 Edison Way in Reno
WHEN: Friday, November 16, 9:30a-3p




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