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Washington, DC—During November’s National Apprenticeship Week, a consortium of 10 organizations across the country announced the launch of the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment, part of a new $20.4 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to expand apprenticeship opportunities around the country, with a particular emphasis on expanding access to apprenticeships among women, people of color, and other underrepresented populations. The consortium includes organizations representing nearly every staffed tradeswomen’s organization in the country and national subject matter experts.

As part of the initiative, DOL awarded contracts to organizations working in manufacturing, construction, transportation, healthcare, and information technology. In a recent study, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that manufacturing, transportation, and IT sectors will need to fill more than two million middle-skill jobs in the next decade, yet only 11 percent of workers currently in these good jobs—which offer family-supporting wages without requiring a college degree—are women. The study identified female-dominated jobs that share many of the same skills with male-dominated target jobs facing skills shortages. With additional training—especially through apprenticeships—women in these “on-ramp” jobs can successfully fill higher-paying job openings and build a lifelong career that can improve economic security for their families.

“Half of American families with children have a breadwinner mother and women of color are especially likely to be raising families on their own,” said National Center advisor and IWPR Program Director on Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch. “Investing in improved access to apprenticeships and good jobs not only improves the earning power of women and ensures greater economic security for American families but helps tackle key skill shortages.”

The project will be led by Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) and Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.(OTI), with regional and national partners spanning the country from California to Boston. Included are seven training and advocacy groups for tradeswomen: Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (Seattle, WA), Building Pathways (Boston, MA), Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues (Boston, MA), Nontraditional Employment for Women (New York), Tradeswomen, Inc. (California), West Virginia Women Work, and Moore Community House Women in Construction Program (Mississippi). Along with two national organizations, IWPR and the Transportation Learning Center. The groups will provide subject matter expertise and develop resources for technical assistance for national and local industry apprenticeship partners. The collaboration among the regionally diverse groups will allow the National Center to scale and promote adoption of strategies that increase access to and retention in apprenticeships among women, especially women of color.

“Apprenticeship means on-the-job training combined with classroom study, offering new workers a ‘learn while you earn’ opportunity that also provides good benefits and portable credentials. Apprenticeships in the construction, manufacturing and transportation sector open doors to high-wage, high skilled jobs and career pathways that offer pay equity and economic security for women.” said Jayne Vellinga, Executive Director of CWIT.

The project will work with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the International Ironworkers Union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the International Training Institute (ITI) for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry, and rail and transit agencies across the country to support their efforts to increase women’s participation and retention in construction and transportation sectors. The consortium will offer training and customized assistance for apprenticeship directors, trainers, unions and employers on best practices for gender equity and inclusion in outreach and recruitment, assessment and selection, and training and retention.

International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers President James Boland emphasized his union’s organizing goals. “Our union is growing, and we are committed to the recruitment and retention of women being part of our growth strategy. We are proud partners with CWIT in this work; through many long-time members who are graduates of CWIT’s programs, we know that they are experts at what they do, just as we are experts with our apprenticeship training. We have something to learn from them, and are glad this grant will make that learning possible.”

“Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and urban centers will demand well-trained, highly-skilled craft workers in numbers far greater than the current total labor market can provide. Therefore, recruitment and retention of apprentices are the top priority for the IUPAT and our employer partners. The Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment will be a key national partner in our efforts to reach those in our communities (especially women, youth, persons of color and returning veterans) seeking job training and decent wages and benefits. CWEAE and its affiliate organizations are the best when it comes to preparing new apprentices for the responsibilities as well as the privileges of proud union craft workers beginning from ‘day one’ of their apprenticeship. Congratulations, and we look forward to working with all of you in our expanded partnership.” said Kenneth Rigmaiden, General President, International Union of Painters and Allied Trade

Chicago Women in Trades and Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. have been working with contractors, unions and apprenticeship training programs to increase the number of women entering and being retained in the construction industry. The technical assistance approach makes sense according to Connie Ashbrook – Executive Director of OTI. “Industry knows it needs to reach out to diverse women to fill its labor shortage, and knows that in order to retain women they need to have an equitable and inclusive environment. But they don’t always know what to do or have the tools to do it – that’s where we come in. This Department of Labor contract gives us the resources to expand our services and materials to help our industry partners.”

Industry leaders are also excited about this new opportunity.  “This initiative will help us to reach even more women, from those interested in working in the trade to those who have yet to hear the sheet metal building trade is even an option for them,” said James Page, administrator for the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal industry. “A diversified work force makes us a strong work force, and apprenticeship is a tried and true method to not only learn a skilled trade, but to invest in a person’s future. The ITI looks forward to working with this initiative to help build careers and change lives.”

For more information about the Gender Equity in Apprenticeship Initiative contact Sharon Latson, or 312.944.1444, ext. 119. For more information on IWPR’s research on women’s access to good middle-skill jobs and IWPR’s role in this project, contact Jennifer Clark, or 202-785-5100, or visit