Washington, DC—A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Jobs for the Future finds that although federal transportation dollars can be used to fund training and support services to improve gender diversity in construction, few states are taking advantage of this opportunity. Jobs in highway, street, and bridge construction—jobs that typically provide family-supporting wages with good benefits—are projected to grow by more than 20 percent until 2022. The reportUntapped Resources, Untapped Labor Pool: Using Federal Highway Funds to Prepare Women for Careers in Construction, identifies case studies in Maryland and Oregon for using federal highway funding to build sustainable pathways for women to skilled construction work.

Women make up fewer than 3 percent of all construction workers, and represent a key labor pool that can help the construction sector meet its hiring needs as many of its skilled workers are approaching retirement. Though they make up a relatively low proportion of the construction workforce, there are more women construction workers than there are women pharmacists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, or occupational therapists.

“We know what is keeping many women out of construction jobs, and what is needed to help them get into and succeed in the trades,” says IWPR Study Director Ariane Hegewisch. “But turning that knowledge into action takes resources. Oregon and Maryland offer examples for creating a stable funding source to build diversity in the construction workforce.”

The report highlights how more states could be utilizing federal dollars to increase diversity while meeting the skills needs of the highway construction workforce.  Maryland and Oregon have locked in a portion of their states’ federal highway construction funds to increase diversity in the highway construction workforce. The programs focus on getting women into construction through pre-apprenticeship training and outreach programs, and on promoting their success and completion in training programs and apprenticeships through child care and other supports, mentoring, and programs for line managers to recognize and prevent discrimination on the job. In Oregon, the percentage of women in apprenticeships is double the national average.

“A reliable transportation infrastructure is dependent upon a skilled workforce to build it. However, our nation’s construction workforce is aging and employers are in need of a strong talent pipeline. Women are a key labor pool that can help the construction industry meet its hiring needs. Career pathways that provide opportunities for continued advancement are an effective way of training women— and all workers—for jobs in the construction industry.  We hope that community leaders and state transportation agencies will explore the use of federal funds to replicate initiatives similar to those highlighted in this brief within their states,” said Maria Flynn, Senior Vice President of Jobs for the Future.

“Oregon’s experience shows that we can attract more women and people of color into well-paying construction careers if we commit to removing barriers to apprenticeship opportunities,” said Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

“These programs work – and can help states build a stronger, more diverse workforce in great careers that don’t require mountains of student debt.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies.

Jobs for the Future
 works with its partners to design and drive the adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.