‘Pre-Apprenticeships’ Boost Female Construction Workers


SAN JOSE, Calif. — She likes to say that she slept through the last 13 years of her life, and indeed, much of it is a blur: Abusive relationship. His-and-her arrests for domestic violence. Meth habit. A period of quasi-homelessness. A 37-day stint in jail for petty theft.

Now, at 38, Sandra Alvarez says she is awake — and duly awoken, she is aiming for a massive do-over: She’s newly sober. She’s off cash assistance. She’s got a job temping and a place to call her own. And most importantly, she’s got career aspirations: She wants to work in construction.

“The first time I went on a construction site, I felt some kind of power,” said Alvarez, sturdy and tattooed with a swath of dark, wavy hair. “It’s weird, but I felt like I belonged.”

But the construction field is a hard one to crack, particularly if you’re female. Women comprise less than 3 percent of the trade workforce, roughly the same portion as 30 years ago. The barriers are many. Sexism is a given — like the foreman who told Alvarez he didn’t need her help on his job site, but sure could use her help in the bedroom.

So Alvarez is hanging her hopes on a state-funded “pre-apprenticeship” program in California, where she is learning the basics of the industry, from blueprints and construction math to job safety. Above all, she’ll learn which trade would suit her best. Carpenter or electrician? Ironworker or pipefitter? (She’s pretty sure carpentry is her thing.)

The goal: With some training under her belt — and with some industry contacts — she’ll land a highly coveted apprenticeship that will lead to a good-paying union job.

More women might soon be able to take advantage of similar programs. Continued at Pewtrusts