Labor Department enters $20M partnership to open doors to women, minorities in trades

Dive Brief:

  • The Department of Labor has entered a $20 million agreement with TradesFutures — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit — to advance equitable opportunities in the construction industry, according to a press release shared with Construction Dive.
  • TradesFutures will use the funds to enroll over 13,000 participants in apprenticeship readiness programs, then place at least 7,000 of them in registered apprenticeships across the country over the next four years. The initiative is in part geared toward staffing projects created by the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • The nonprofit will partner with the DOL, the National Urban League and North America’s Building Trades Unions to focus on developing a gateway for women, people of color, veterans, Native Americans and other underrepresented groups to access apprenticeship programs. The project will initially explore programs in Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee before expanding to other states. 

Dive Insight:

Apprenticeship readiness programs create a stepping stone for people who have historically not had a clear path to the trades by preparing them for a registered apprenticeship or other further training, according to the release.

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh announced the initiative at a roundtable event Monday with Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU; Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans; Nicole Schwartz, executive director of TradesFutures; department staff and leadership and union apprentices.

Walsh pointed to the IIJA and the CHIPS Act, saying that this initiative is capitalizing on the opportunities those major spending packages have created.

“[The funding] isn’t the exciting part of these bills, the exciting part is the jobs they create,” Walsh said.

Attendees shared anecdotes of men and women, particularly Black Americans, who have overcome obstacles to join the trades and proved that construction can provide workers with a clear pathway to the middle class. 

Schwartz said she wanted to change the visibility of construction as a viable career from a “big secret to a dinner table conversation in every household.”

She also indicated the $20 million for trades training is just one avenue to expand the routes and options potential workers already have to finding construction jobs.

“This is just one avenue into the trades,” she said. “But I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there for people if they’re interested and this is just one of the ways that they can get in.”

Looking ahead

Speakers were joined by three young professionals who shared their winding path to discovering the trades as well as hurdles the industry poses.

Ana Figueroa, apprentice at Glaziers Local 252 and Gabrielle Wessels, apprentice at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 — both in Philadelphia —  spoke candidly about the challenges of women on the jobsite, saying they regularly felt glances, doubt and judgment from others at work.

Darius Gainey, apprentice with IBEW Local 4 in Baltimore, said as a Black man, he’d been discriminated against at work. Gainey said he had often felt passed up for responsibilities or jobs due to the color of his skin, but also had support encouraging him to speak up for himself.

McGarvey and Schwartz told Construction Dive the partnership with the National Urban League is key. Ensuring that underrepresented workers, like women and Black Americans, know they have support and mentors makes all the difference.

“This means a lot to me, because it’s one of my last acts as secretary of labor,” said Walsh, who will depart President Joe Biden’s cabinet later this month to lead the National Hockey League’s players’ union. “Anything is possible when someone opens a door for you and shows the way.”

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