#ApprenticeshipWorks for Women

By Caitlin Cater, policy analyst in the department’s Women’s Bureau

This National Apprenticeship Week, hear from three tradeswomen about how #ApprenticeshipWorks for them.

Shamaiah Turner

Shamaiah Turner:

Fifth-year apprentice with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 in Dorchester, Massachusetts

Q. What initially drew you to apprenticeship?

When I graduated high school I knew I wanted to build, but I didn’t know what apprenticeships were. Instead, I took a gap year as an AmeriCorps volunteer working for Habitat for Humanity, and then did three semesters at the Tulane School of Architecture. I wasn’t cut out to be in college at that time. Since Hurricane Katrina had just hit New Orleans, I found time to do more volunteering to rebuild homes.
Eventually I made my way back up to Boston and began to ask around — mostly to men — about how to get into construction. Most often, I was told to look for work in an office. I remember finally hearing about apprenticeship programs on NPR. I still wasn’t sure how to get my foot in the door until my aunt handed me a flyer for Building Pathways. It turned out to be the exact opportunity that I was looking for. As I went through the program I discovered that sheet metal was most compatible with what I had learned in architecture school. It’s a trade that utilizes drafting and relies heavily on craftsmanship, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. I’ve been enjoying my trade for almost 5 years now.

Q. How has apprenticeship helped you in your career or your life?

Apprenticeship has helped me establish a stable career and develop leadership skills. Between the time I left college and started at Local 17, I was working mostly in food service and wondering what I’d be doing with the rest of my life. In terms of money, I had no thought of retirement or savings. In terms of society, I couldn’t imagine that my voice had any influence. I felt small and silenced. Since becoming an apprentice I have gained skills that will sustain me for the rest of my life both in terms of my trade and, to my surprise, in galvanizing others to take an interest in the labor movement. Showing up is honestly most of the battle because in apprenticeship you are learning on the job and in my union, if you show up to the meetings or to events pertaining to the interest of the labor movement, you have a voice. I now feel as if I have a clear direction in my life. I love and understand my trade, I see the benefit of a good job and a union, and I have resources to advocate for those things that create a thriving society.

Q. What advice would you offer women who are thinking about apprenticeship?

My first piece of advice is to apply and continue to apply. If you are interested in this career opportunity, then it is for you! The dominant culture and plenty of men will try to convince you otherwise, but they are wrong and unfortunately often very loud about it. That is why my second piece of advice is to surround yourself with a support network of other tradeswomen. The only reason that I can speak up for myself and others is because I know I have a strong support system to fall back on. Being connected to other tradeswomen and allies who have the same mission as me has done wonders for my confidence. Confidence is another key component in being successful as a woman in this industry and it is pivotal to my third piece of advice, which is to speak up against injustice and harmful stereotypes and to stand up for continued equity on the job.
AJ Banuelos

AJ Banuelos

Journeyman laborer — bellman for Tower Crane, Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 737 in Portland, Oregon

Q. What initially drew you to apprenticeship?

The pay and the benefits. Apprenticeship allowed me to be self-sufficient and to provide for my family in a way that I wasn’t able to before.
I was in a pre-apprenticeship program through Oregon Tradeswomen in Portland. Through that program, I got to experience the different trades. I decided that laborer would be the best fit for me because of the variety of tasks in my trade — I was able to do many different things.

Q. How has apprenticeship helped you in your career or your life?

Apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to earn while I learn. I began my apprenticeship in February 2011. In October 2013, I journeyed out. Less than a year later, in August 2014, I was able to buy my own house. I’m the full proprietor on my mortgage, and I’m a single mother of three. Also, apprenticeship gave me the job skills and the work ethic to be able to be a successful journeyman and to continue to grow within my trade. I was the first female bellman from my trade in the state of Oregon, and I was able to do that with the training and skills I gained through my apprenticeship.

Q. What advice would you offer women who are thinking about apprenticeship?

I strongly suggest that they look into apprenticeship, whatever trade it may be. I encourage women to actively seek out apprenticeship — and to complete it. Completing an apprenticeship is something that no one can ever take away from you. It will enable you to be successful in whatever career you choose. It’s a good path to self-sufficiency.
Jeannie Lockwood

Jeannie Lockwood:

Journeywoman electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 in New York, New York

Q. What initially drew you to apprenticeship?

I was unemployed and went to a job fair, where I met a graduate of Nontraditional Employment for Women. She talked to me about NEW’s pre-apprenticeship training program and convinced me to enter it. I was not actually looking for blue-collar work or work in the trades. But I entered the program and discovered a career that I am truly passionate about.

Q. How has apprenticeship helped you in your career or your life?

The Local 3 IBEW apprenticeship prepared me to be a professional journeywoman electrician with not only classes in electrical theory and trade unionism at the college level, but also hands-on skills in the field and specialized training facilities. There was also a lot of education about intangible skills such as negotiating, diplomacy, and navigating the various levels of hierarchy in a blue collar workplace and union landscape. On a personal level, this apprenticeship gave me more confidence in life due to the level of competence I have gained from all of my training. My life and the lives of all I encounter are richer for it.

Q. What advice would you offer women who are thinking about apprenticeship?

· Don’t choose your trade for the money, but rather, for the love of the trade.
· Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something you know you can do.
· Learn your trade — it’s the most important thing.
· Be safe.
· Be the best apprentice you can be so you can become the best journeyperson you can be.
· Ask questions and seek out mentors wherever you can identify them.
I am passionate about what I do and I feel very well taken care of by my union. I want other people to have that, too — to understand what it is to be confident and competent, and to feel valued.

At the Women’s Bureau, we know that apprenticeship is a particularly good investment for women. For example, one study found that women who completed a registered apprenticeship had higher annual earnings than women who did not. In addition, the women in the study expressed almost uniformly positive views about registered apprenticeship, and highlighted it as a pathway to a rewarding career that offers good pay, benefits, and opportunity for advancement.

Women interested in careers in non-traditional occupations can find information and resources, including training and apprenticeship opportunities, supportive services, and tradeswomen organizations, through our Women Build, Protect and Move America portal.