The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, a new member of CEDAM this year, is dedicated to helping women realize their potential. With a focus on providing a supportive environment for their clients, the Center helps women achieve economic independence and develop emotional and physical well-being, regardless of income level. One of their newest initiatives is the Women in Skilled Trades program, also known as WIST.
The WIST program was developed in partnership with two women who work in the construction industry in the Lansing area, Tori Menold from Granger Construction and Carol Cool from Infrastructure and Planning Services at Michigan State University. Near the end of 2016 they went to Cindie Alwood, executive director of the Women’s Center, and said “We need to do something to help women.” Together they created a program that strives to create better lives for women by preparing them for a successful career in the skilled trades industry and by connecting them with other tradeswomen.
The program includes educational events and a 13-week long Apprenticeship Readiness Program. The first event, Women Build, took place in September 2017. The event allowed women to explore careers in construction and other skilled trades jobs including plumbing, carpentry, electrical, laborer, masons/ bricklayer and equipment operator. At events like these, WIST encourages hands-on interaction, allowing the women to get comfortable with the trade of their choice or discover a skill or interest they never knew they had.
Jobs in the skilled trades industry offer competitive wages, too.
“[In skilled trades jobs] there’s pay equity to start—you can start off as an apprentice with a living wage with benefits,” Alwood said. “They’re really good jobs for women who need to support themselves and their families.”
As the group grew and acquired an advisory board, WIST transformed from ideas exchanged in conversation to a reality—and just in time too, as the demand for skilled tradespeople is higher than ever. WIST, the only program of its type in Michigan, is an accelerated program that ensures women are ready for an apprenticeship as soon as they graduate, allowing them to enter the field and earn money immediately.
The 13-week training (the inaugural group of six are in their fourth week) follows the nationally recognized NABTU Multi-Core Curriculum (MC3) and also includes hands-on activities in multiple disciplines, OSHA certification training, First Aid/CPR/AED certification training, sexual harassment awareness training, physical strength training and a mentorship program that helps connect participants with other women in the construction trades.
WIST targets single moms who may be interested in working in a trade.
“These women like building things, they like tearing things apart, they like figuring things out, they’re good problem solvers and they’re not afraid of math,” said Alwood.
However, Alwood finds that the program is highlighting what she already knew—there are many societal barriers that single mothers face. Housing, transportation and childcare, to name a few, often stand in the way of women being able to make it to the classes, which take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-9pm on Michigan State University’s campus, and all day on Saturday—a day that typically incorporates site visits.
Through grant funding, however, many of these challenges can be accommodated. Participants receive a stipend to cover the cost of transportation and childcare, making the program more accessible for those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enroll.
When women who are highly interested in the program feel that they aren’t ready, or feel they may have to drop out, the Women’s Center is able to step in and provide additional services, like one-on-one counseling, to help navigate the hurdles.
WIST is the pioneer of programs for women in skilled trades in Michigan. The interest from women is high, and the founders are excited to continue growing and giving women the opportunity to find their place in the skilled trades.
Written by Meghan Kuhr, communications intern