How to Inspire Girls to Become Carpenters and Electricians

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
In a workshop space in Portland, Oregon, a group of 10 young girls recently learned the fine art of soldering steel.
The camp, held in March, was one of dozens put on by Girls Build, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls the basics of carpentry, plumbing, electricity, and other skilled trades. Founded in 2016, the camps are held in Oregon and Washington and involve an all-female team of instructors who introduce about 40 girls to as many as 10 trades in the course of a week. While one day might be devoted to learning about roofing or wiring solar panels, another day could be spent exploring auto mechanics, tree trimming, or fire fighting.

Job opportunities in the trades are also on the rise. Employment for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is expected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, more than two times the average growth rate for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for people who install solar panels is even higher—set to grow by 105 percent over that same decade.

The trade industry as a whole is suffering from a skills shortage. In 2017, for example, 70 percent of contractors reported difficulty finding enough workers for construction projects, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

“With the automation of many of these types of tasks within these jobs, for you to be successful at this, you’re going to have to learn the computer skills, you’re going to have to learn to operate the machine,” Smith said. “It’s not necessarily one of these ‘dirty jobs’ that you’re not going to want to participate in.”
Helping to erase whatever boundaries are keeping women out of these careers is certainly one way to help ease this shortage. Girls Build is making strides in that direction.


This year, 400 girls will take part in Girls Build—half of them will be returners, Hughes said. The camp has had so much success that this year it launched a camp specifically for girls who have already attended before and want to keep building on that knowledge. Last year, the organization added a junior councilors program, where 15-year-olds can assist the teachers, and a paid intern program for 16- to 24-year-olds.

This is not to say that every girl who walks into Girls Build will automatically be enamored with the trades. For some participants, it’s not a good fit, Hughes said. But the camps were never meant just to lay out a career path. They were also about empowering girls to interact with the physical world and learn that they could decipher the mechanics of a broken tool and tackle fixing it on their own.
“There’s something really satisfying about being a person who can fix things,” said Hughes. “I don’t want girls to be robbed of that feeling.”

 

bowman

Board of Directors, Events Director
Neal
Staff member
Corporate Member
Thanks for sharing Mike. With vocational classes going out of the schools, our students are being fed that everyone needs to get a college degree. What they don't tell the kids that the cost of getting a college degree is rising faster than pay scales of any job (with the exception of some CEOs). I cannot imagine coming out of college today $60k (minimum) in debt with a basic bachelors degree.

I am glad to see a program like this is being successful and have hopes that it spreads across the country to give more females the opportunity to try their hands in the various trades. My hat is off to the founder of this program!
 

cobraguy

Clay
Corporate Member
That sounds like a fantastic program! My daughter would have loved it. Ever since she was small she wanted to design and build houses. She started down the path for architectural engineering, but quit that and opted for an A.S. is architectural CAD so she could get to work earlier and signed on with a firm in Southern Pines. She also really enjoyed the surveying portion of her studies. She was on the team constructing the new addition to the Orlando airport in FL, but was caught up in a downsizing just today. She will use this as an opportunity to get back into the residential work she loves. Overcoming the reluctance of many of her male colleagues to accept her has been a challenge, but she just works harder and wins them over. Her husband is also in construction, so that helps. I believe there are many young women with the desire and aptitude, but the male domination and rough-and-tumble of a work site intimidate them.
Neal hit it right. Looking forward to this going nationwide. Even if they don't go into a trade, doing their own repairs and maintenance can be satisfying, and financially rewarding.
 

Charles Lent

Charley
Corporate Member
My oldest son's wife is a licensed building contractor, and I've seen her do some amazing work herself. She and her dad built houses as partners, until he passed a few years ago. She is about to start building a new home in Gold Hill, NC. She now subs out a lot of the work, but doesn't hesitate to get directly involved whenever necessary.

I once knew a woman electrician in the 1960's who was incredibly good and did mostly industrial electrical work where conduit bending is a significant part of the job. She was also very good at solving electrical problems. She had painted all of her hand tools pink, so when the guys borrowed them, they would always be returned. Her daughter was learning from her mom when I last saw her.

I'm all for it, if they want to learn the trades.

Charley
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
If I remember correctly Barbara Foreman had been an electrical contractor before she retired. She pushed me to start women only classes for sharpening and woodworking. We had a lot of fun learning together. The Outreach Program here had its earliest roots in those women’s classes even though they had to be done in secret because they were disapproved by the management of this site at that time. I hope I have changed those old attitudes and am happy to teach anyone who wants to learn. I know all the current instructors share my feelings in making everyone welcome and comfortable in our classes.
 

Oka

Oka
User
Hi all, new member Oka here. At my work and in the local school my daughter goes to I encourage females to consider the field of construction. What I found in teaching is:
Show anyone how it benefits them or how they also can be successful at something, they will begin to relate and take ownership of that action. This, and the visual result of seeing what you have done is the key to getting people albeit female or male to see the value of the work and see how it can be a lifelong career.
 

jerrye

Jerry
Corporate Member
Regarding the trades...search out & follow another Mike, Mike Rowe, and see what he is doing. His foundation would be a great place for women interested in the trades to find support, possibly even financial support.
 
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Berta

Berta
Corporate Member
We could offer a class called Girls Can, or some such thing.
The people of NCWW will need to ask and see if they have someone willing to participate. We have plenty of people that could help. We could offer it 2 or 3 times a year.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
I hope the Girl Scout connection will work out.

But we should also be running classes several times a year as you say.
 

Pop Golden

Pop
User
A few years ago I was at a York County Woodworkers Meeting. I struck up a conversion with a shop teacher He had a girl turner who decided to quit shop. When he ask why. She told him it seemed to be a boys class and she was intimated. Old teach told her "you know that lathe you use is under a window? When you're turning sometime look up at that window and you'll see boys faces plastered against the window watching you work. Your work and skills are admired." She went back to turning.

Pop
 

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