Recently, the industry celebrated National Women in Apprenticeship Day—part of National Apprenticeship Week—which coincides with the signing a year ago of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure. Increasing the number of women in apprenticeship and the jobs created by the BIL go hand in hand. The BIL’s funding for transportation projects, water systems, energy and power infrastructure and expanding access to broadband internet will require a skilled workforce ready to fill the high-wage jobs these projects will create.
However, without targeted efforts to ensure equity and inclusion, those who have been historically excluded and underrepresented in these sectors’ apprenticeships and workforce may still find challenges to benefiting from these career opportunities. The barriers that have kept the numbers of women and people of color low in construction apprenticeships and jobs still persist. The BIL creates a unique opportunity to address these barriers and change the face of construction.
Tradeswomen’s organizations know exactly how to do that. Led by Chicago Women in Trades, the Women Building Infrastructure Initiative is convening tradeswomen led local or state based teams of key partners from industry and public agencies who are administering funds from the BIL. The teams include public agencies, unions, contractors, apprenticeship programs, community-based and workforce development organizations, and other interested stakeholders who are working together to create equity plans for infrastructure projects in their regions. The Women Building Infrastructure Initiative, with funding from the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor and the Kellogg Foundation, will accelerate state and local efforts to increase women’s inclusion and equity in construction-trades jobs and apprenticeships that will rebuild America’s infrastructure.
These plans are being guided by the recommendations set forth in the Framework for Infrastructure Workforce Equity which calls for robust goals for the percentage of total work-hours that are worked by women and other underrepresented populations, 20% apprentice utilization by trade, strong public agency monitoring of contractors’ and subcontractors’ compliance with these goals, and requirements for policy and practices to ensure work sites that are free from bullying, hazing or harassment. The teams are working to leverage expanded resources to support pre-apprenticeship training and other essential supportive services such as childcare, and provide guidance to project owners, public agencies, apprenticeship programs, unions, and contractors on best practices to increase opportunities for women to be prepared to enter and succeed in the skilled trades.
“The Biden-Harris administration’s investments in infrastructure are also historic investments in good union jobs. We have to view this moment as an obligation to deliver greater gender and racial equity while ensuring that women and workers of color have a seat at the table,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “This is why the Women’s Bureau invested in the 11 state Women in the Infrastructure Workforce Initiative.”
According to Lauren Sugerman, Director of CWIT’s National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment and a former elevator constructor, “We know what is necessary, what works, and how to do it. All we need now is an investment of leadership, commitment, and resources from policy makers and industry stakeholders to open the doors and let us show that Women Can Build Infrastructure!”