Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Women hammer out success in construction

Small numbers result in need for mutual support

By Janice Denham
Monday, April 13, 2009 11:18 AM CDT

Janice Denham Journal / Journeyman Sharon Sitler of Jennings, left, and apprentice Meghan McKenzie of Clayton get information and practice at the St. Louis Carpenters' Joint Apprenticeship Program in Affton.

In the construction trades, only 1 percent of the workforce in Missouri consists of women. Teresa Willis, director of Missouri Women in Trades, points to that as a challenge for her group to become known among women who might choose a career as carpenter, electrician, welder or paperhanger.

The group can provide camaraderie for those working in such trades.

"Women don't see each other when they are working out there," Willis said. "It's nice to come together with other women experiencing the same things you are going through."

Even in a tight construction market, the group raises awareness that women can do these jobs, and there is opportunity in this industry which allows a woman to be paid well and raise a family.

Willis said the industry only stands to gain from increasing the number of women in the field, as it needs to focus more on women as a minority in the trades. Expectation is the workforce will need an infusion as baby boomers retire and traditional labor pools become harder to tap.

"An organization like ours, in an industry where it has mainly men, has value in that we can help them learn what the issues are that women face," Willis said.

Path to building

A woman already working may not arrive carrying her dad's - or even less likely, her mom's - hammer.

Lynda Mueller Drendel is the only woman of 15 full-time instructors in the St. Louis Carpenters' Joint Apprenticeship Training Program in Affton. With a college degree in social work, she was a non-union carpenter for eight years in New Orleans. Joining the union after working in St. Louis gives her a double perspective.

Janice Denham Journal / Lynda Mueller Drendel of south St. Louis, instructor in the Carpenters' Joint Apprenticeship Program, works with Steve Newland of Sedalia.

Equally at home wearing a hard hat or grading tests on OSHA requirements, she said the pay and benefits of health insurance and pension make the union attractive.

"The work is psychologically and physically challenging," Drendel said. "Union training makes the job definitely safer for both men and women."

Although women working in a predominantly male environment may feel isolated at times, she sees them gain confidence while on the job.

When Drendel started teaching, she found her attitude of impressing girls with a spirit that women can achieve anything needed an update.

"Women of today, just like my 11-year-old daughter, already know that," Drendel said. "Stereotypes have changed."

She and her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Anna, live in south St. Louis.

"There is no difference in the teaching," Drendel said. "Every carpenter has to find your strengths. Mine is trim (work), which I also teach."

Accommodation with a sense of humor helps both sides, too. A 25-pound tool belt can bruise narrow hips, but everyone learns the value of steel-toed work boots, earplugs, hard hat and gloves.

Years to prepare

To become a carpenter apprentice, a union contractor must sponsor an applicant. Four years on the job later, with a return to the training facility two weeks every six months, the apprentice becomes a journeyman.

Meghan McKenzie of Clayton has been an apprentice for about a year. After working as a manager in work camps for Campus Crusade for Christ, including relief after Hurricane Katrina, she came to Tarlton Corp. with a bachelor's degree in engineering science from Purdue University.

Fellow employees encouraged her to diversify from her position as project engineer. Whether welding, helping drive piles or learning scaffolding, McKenzie has gained new perspective on what she has designed.

"I kind of like to be in the midst of what is going on rather than in an office," McKenzie said.

Drendel, one of her teachers, hopes women tradesmen such as McKenzie will tap into Missouri Women in Trades to find the support they need to do their jobs better.

Tool turnaround constructs benefits for women in trades

Tools, even old ones, can encourage women to become new carpenters, plumbers, painters and other construction workers.

Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT) will sell new and used tools and

construction equipment at a Tool Turnaround Saturday, April 25, at 8300 Manchester Road in Brentwood. A $10 donation allows early birds to check the supply from 7 to 9 a.m. before the sale opens to the public at 9 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m.

Besides the rain-or-shine sale, free activities for all ages include tradeswoman challenges and information about careers for women in the construction trades. A silent auction of handcrafted arts and crafts "? including shelves, tables, plant stands and stained glass windows "? made by tradeswomen will be offered.

Tools still can be donated for the sale. Collection sites are listed on the website

Proceeds provide learning experiences for groups of girls, such as the Girl Scouts and students in technical schools, and career counseling for interested girls and women, plus support groups for women in the trades. MOWIT will offer a week-long day camp from July 13 through 17 for girls entering grades 10 through 12.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

State is seeking the modern Rosie the Riveter

By Susan Abram, Staff Writer
Updated: 03/15/2009 08:11:11 PM PDT

BEVERLY HILLS - Martha Hernandez builds her future with cement and stone, nails and drill bits, lumber and steel.

Today, she is doing finishing work on French doors at the tony Beverly Hills Montage hotel. Someday, she will make homes and construct skyscrapers.

"I remember looking at buildings and saying, `I want to build that one day," said Hernandez, a 29-year-old Reseda resident and first-year carpenter's apprentice. "This is the only kind of work I love."

That's the sentiment state officials want to hear more of, especially now, as the average age of California's construction worker hits 47.

Retirements of existing workers loom just as federal stimulus money to repair the state's roads and highways, levies and dams, schools and government buildings, becomes available in the next few years.

That means the supply of carpenters, iron workers, equipment operators and masons won't meet the demand unless 200,000 apprentices are in the pipeline.

So a state campaign called has aimed its message at mothers, daughters and sisters, hoping to boost the 4 percent share women now have in California construction.

World War II gave the nation Rosie the Riveter. So why, some ask, can't the 21st century have Bridget the Bridge Builder?

"We wanted to target women because the building construction trade is a viable career," said Renee Bacchini, assistant to the chief at the Division of Apprenticeship Standards in the Department of Industrial Relations.

Bacchini produced a gender neutral television commercial last year that first aired in Fresno, but has been spotted recently on Los Angeles stations. The commercial features women of varying ages and races, affirming their decision to enter the construction field.

While some public works funds have been suspended and work stoppages have impacted apprenticeship programs, Bacchini said it's a good time for women to get into training programs. The paycheck is pretty good, she said. An apprentice earns about 50 percent - anywhere from $12 to $20 an hour - of what a journeyman's wages are.

But the challenge isn't just luring women into apprenticeship programs. It's keeping them there.

From January 1999 to January 2009, the number of women in construction increased just 11 percent nationally, according to figures by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That relatively small increase, some say, is due in part to harassment on the job or male supervisors who remain skeptical about hiring women. Finding child care also remains tough. Workers who have to be at sites at 5 or 6 a.m. often can't find places that accept their sons or daughters.

"When Rosie the Riveter came in, she was needed so badly. There were no men to push her out," said Kristyan Kouri, a professor of sociology, gender and women's studies at California State University, Northridge.

Kouri said some men think of their jobs as a "men's only" club much like fraternities or sports teams. As a result, they may become angry when women enter their "male sphere" and attempt to force them out.

"Many men have been taught all of their life to believe that they are innately more suited than women to work in fields like construction," Kouri said. "Seeing a woman who can do the job just as well as they can may be very threatening to their masculinity.

"Even though we've come forward in the last 40 years, we still have those sexist beliefs," she said. "Men may love a woman as a wife and sex partner, but they don't want them wherever they go."

That perception needs to change - and fast, said Pat McGinn, director for the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund.

"I believe we are approaching a crisis among the trades," McGinn said. "We have ignored the other half of the labor force, and I don't think we can afford to ignore them any longer."

McGinn said even though the employment sector has sputtered, there won't be enough apprentices once the economy stabilizes.

He agreed that society's perception of "women's work" is partly to blame.

"Among those women that come in, very few make it through the apprenticeship," McGinn said. "Given the choice, a man will hire a man over the woman. You've got co-workers who believe women don't belong there. It's still part of our culture."

That's why he and creators of the campaign plan to take their messages into the schools.

"It's a little bit unrealistic to devalue some of our most precious jobs that include doing work with your hands and getting dirty," Bacchini said. "It's not just going to work with a tool belt. You have the opportunity to own your own business, go up to foreman or superintendent."

In recent years, more women are being seen on home improvement television programs, but enrollment in classes continues to dwindle, said Jamie Robison an educational services coordinator for the Southwestern Carpenters Training Fund. Robison, who worked her way up as an apprentice to go on into millwright work as a supervisor, said Los Angeles' first construction expo in May will feature many women who own businesses.

Meanwhile, there are still women like Hernandez, who said she just wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. He worked construction, everything from framing and remodeling, to installing tiles and brick laying.

"I used to say, Come on, Papi, take me with you," Hernandez said. He refused until her mother persuaded him otherwise.

Hernandez said she once quit the work she loves so much because of harassment by male co-workers. But she joined the Carpenters Union Local 209 in Sylmar and returned to job sites, tool box in hand.

Not all the guys are receptive, she said, but she doesn't pay attention to negativity.

"I don't know what they think about me," she said, as she continued sanding one of the elaborate doors of the ritzy hotel.

Co-worker Rafael Ramirez said some of the men are learning to accept women at sites, but it's a slow process.

"Some guys are afraid she's going to take their job away," he said. "I say if she has the capacity, why not?"

Hernandez said carpentry is how she expresses herself.

"It's hard out there," she said. "But I'm not afraid of anything. This work puts food on the table."

Pink Tool Belts and Pink Hard Hats

Who Will Be The First To Represent Women In The Tool Department?

Until now there has been little interest in meeting the needs of the more than one million women in the construction industry. More specifically women have had little choice but to use awkwardly fitting construction gear such as tool belts, work boots, and work clothes that were designed to fit men. GirlyLock LLC is stepping up to the plate to not only fill the needs of women in this industry but to make retailers and construction companies aware that this need exists.

Milwaukee, WI (PRWEB) April 2, 2009 -- Announcing the launch of A company whose mission is to provide professional grade construction gear with the fit and function designed specifically for women working in the trade. Their top selling products are construction quality pink tool belts and pink hard hats.

Michelle Swamp started GirlyLock out of a basic personal need to find products that were durable yet fit a woman's shape properly and allowed for a little feminine flair. She says, "Just because I work in a traditionally male field, doesn't mean I should have to look like a man."

Michelle, who is also co-owner of CBS Construction, has been working in the trade for 15 years. During that time she has struggled with awkward fitting man sized tool belts, men's work boots, and men's work clothes as women's versions of sturdy work gear was simply nowhere to be found.

With the rise in popularity of home make-over and do-it-yourself TV shows, the public is becoming more aware of women in construction and women DIYers. In the past few years gimmicky pink toolbelts and pink handled tools have started popping up. The challenge is, these are not professional grade products designed to last through day to day use on the job.

That's when Michelle decided she was going to represent the "Pink Collar Worker" (a phrase she has coined for all the females out there working in construction and other traditional blue collar trades). Michelle states that According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), out of 10.1 million total people in construction, one million are women. "And," Michelle says, "Up until now, no one has taken women's needs for sturdy work gear seriously." And so GirlyLock, LLC was born.

Michelle took her own on-the-job experience to design and manufacture her own pink tool belts that are sturdy enough to last for years on the job AND fit women of all sizes comfortably. They also come in blue, black, and tan because we are here to represent all women not just those who like pink! GirlyLock hard hats, which meet OSHA regulations and ANSI standards, come in neon pink, aqua blue, navy blue, and jet black. There is also a GirlyLock line of work clothing and accessories. Michelle is adding to the GirlyLock line regularly and eventually plans to encompass women's needs from every angle.

Michelle still has her work cut out for her in convincing the male dominated field that there is a need for women's work gear. But, GirlyLock has already seen some success. Home Depot carried the GirlyLock line of tool belts as a Christmas seasonal item and GirlyLock has sold thousands of products online all over the world . She is currently pursuing several large home and hardware stores to pick up the GirlyLock line. She encourages all women in the trade and DIYers to contact these types of stores and let them know you want gear for women (preferably GirlyLock brand!).

Until GirlyLock products become available in your local store they can be purchased at the online store or call 1-877-447-5956

Michelle Swamp, president
GirlyLock LLC

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