“You don’t need a dude,” the billboard along West Moana Lane reminds employers, emphasizing the message with an image of two women clad in hard hats and ready to get to work.
The billboard is a highly visible portion of a re-energized initiative by trades unions in northern Nevada to recruit more women into apprenticeships for skilled construction jobs.
Women Build Nevada, a program of the Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, seeks to create opportunities for women who are interested in skilled construction trades to talk with women who already have built careers in the field.
About 260 women are working as apprentices in union-sponsored programs statewide in Nevada, and a majority of them are apprentices in union programs. Among them is Nicole Perez, president of Women Build Nevada, who works as an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 401 in Reno and Sparks. (She’s also one of the two women pictured on the billboard, along with IBEW member Michelle Abel.)
Nationally, women account for only about 10% of construction employment, and union officials believe the percentage is even lower in Nevada. Before the pandemic scrambled things, leaders of construction trades unions in Nevada hoped to double the percentage of their membership represented by women.
The unions’ pitch: Skilled construction workers are in high demand in Nevada and apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to learn career-level skills without the costs and debts of a college degree.
Coordinators of apprenticeship programs have been focused on recruitment of women for about 15 years, says Randy Canale, training coordinator of UA Local 350, whose members include plumbers, pipefitters and service technicians.
But late last year, the Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinators Association decided the initiative — previously known as Building Women — would be even stronger with a women-led organization. The new name, “Women Build Nevada,” is tied to the “Women Build Nations” campaign of the National Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The goal is to let interested women know that they may have successful careers in what traditionally is considered a male-dominated industry,” Canale says.
Often, leaders of Women Build Nevada say, women who might be interested in well-paid careers in the construction trades want to hear the perspective of women who already have found a spot in the skilled trades.
Those one-on-one conversations, obviously, have come to a near standstill since the arrival of the pandemic. So have the career fairs that helped spread the word.
That’s given the newly re-focused initiative time to organize to move quickly once the pandemic restrictions become a thing of the past.
A second benefit of the program, Perez says, is the forum it’s provided for women currently in the field to share ideas.
“One of the goals is really to get the women together in this state and give everyone a voice,” says Perez. “It’s a platform where we can get together and share our experiences on the job and to come up with ideas to move things forward for women in the trades in Nevada.”
For instance, she says IBEW has begun looking more closely at maternity and paternity leave programs after hearing about a successful program launched by union ironworkers.
The apprenticeship training programs for which Women Build Nevada is recruiting are varied — construction craft laborers, electricians, heat and frost insulators, ironworkers, NV Energy workers, operating engineers, painters and allied trades, plasterers and cement masons, plumbers and pipefitters, sheet metal workers, and stationary engineers.