An equal-opportunity career

Trades look to recruit more young women

Posted on Nov 12, 2019 :: Plant News
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Maddy DeJardin had a pretty good idea of her career path long before she graduated from Green Bay West High School. At age 16, she joined the youth apprenticeship program through the Plumbers and Steamfitters UA Local 400, and now, less than six months after graduating high school, she is a first-year apprentice in steam fitting construction at Bassett Mechanical in Kaukauna.

“I knew early on that I wanted to go into the trades. My whole family is involved in the trades, so I knew it was a good, solid career,” DeJardin says. “I also enjoy working with my hands, so steam fitting seemed like a great fit.”

The pipe trades could use a lot more students like DeJardin. By 2028, an estimated 3 million skilled trade jobs will be vacant due to the aging workforce and upcoming retirements. Jeff Knaus, business manager of UA 400 in Kaukauna, says one way to help close that gap is by recruiting more women to work in the trades. Between 2017 and 2018, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported a 17 percent increase in the number of women working in construction.

“That was the highest increase the industry has seen in 20 years,” he says. “It’s safe to say we’ve been seeing more women in the trades. I think there are a few reasons for that — one is the increased awareness about the trades and that it’s not just something men can do.”

For his part, Knaus is attending more career fairs at high schools and technical colleges to talk about the trades and raise their profile.

“I’ve also done career events for adults who are looking for other opportunities,” he says. “There’s definitely a concerted effort to reach out to military veterans and get them interested in the trades.”

In the pipe trades, apprentices are in the program for five years before becoming journeymen. During the training, apprentices learn hands-on skills in the workplace and attend classes.

“Taking on an apprentice is a big commitment for a business,” Knaus says. “They are getting paid to work; they attend classes.”

At Bassett Mechanical, DeJardin helps install new evaporators, cut pipe, pressure test systems and install gauges and fittings. “My job duties will continue to grow the more I learn,” she says.

While DeJardin admits there are not a lot of women working in the pipe trades, that has not deterred her.

“When I work in the shop, the people that know me know I’m a hard worker. I want to learn the trade and people want to help me however they can,” she says. “It’s not the easiest job in the world to do, but it’s not impossible. It’s completely doable for a woman to do this job.”

DeJardin says the youth apprenticeship program helped her determine exactly what career she wanted to pursue.

“School didn’t really interest me much. With the apprenticeship program, I was able to work during normal school hours and get paid for it,” she says. “I got in two years of experience in the shop, and I had a lot of opportunities to learn new things before I even graduated high school.”

Jerica Bohman is another young woman who decided to pursue a career in the trades — although she didn’t join the UA 400 until about four years after she graduated from Hortonville High School. She was looking for a new job and had a few family members who worked there.

“I started out in 2012, and my experience as an apprentice has been challenging but very rewarding,” says Bohman, who did her apprenticeship in pipe welding at Team Industries. “There are a lot of benefits and opportunities” for people who pursue the trades as a career.

While more women are joining the trades, Knaus says there is still plenty of room for growth. “We want to keep increasing those numbers,” he says. “We want people who are hardworking, eager to learn new skills and substance-free. The trades are a great career path.”