Vermont has a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to address the barriers women and other marginalized groups face in accessing and advancing in construction trades jobs and grow its workforce.
With an expected $2.2 billion to be invested in the state’s infrastructure – highways, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations, and broadband – over the next five years, Vermont will need additional trained workers to fill these high-wage jobs.
Vermont Works for Women (VWW), along with ten other tradeswomen’s organizations across the country, partnered with the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, state agencies, and contractors to develop equity plans for their regions to ensure those who have been historically excluded can benefit from these career opportunities.
VWW’s 20-page Equity in Infrastructure framework outlines the current status of women in the trades, and clear next steps for stakeholders to take to create equitable pathways into the trades, from youth education to inclusive hiring practices for underrepresented populations to adjusting state priorities and funding models.
Since 1987, VWW has trained and supported women and gender-expansive individuals to enter careers in construction and skilled trades. VWW’s current training program, Trailblazers, is a free, seven-week, pre-apprenticeship program offering hands-on learning led by female instructors and paid onsite work experience with a local employer who has undergone gender equity training. VWW program offerings also include career exploration opportunities in the skilled trades for middle and high school students.
“For decades, Vermont Works for Women has been simultaneously working with women, to provide training and support while also working with employers and industries to ensure motivating and family-sustaining work environments,” said Rhoni Basden, Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women. “We are eager to partner with state agencies and stakeholders on raising awareness and providing collaborative pathways to ensure we meet the increasing demand for workers in these industries.”
VWW works with dozens of employers around the state to create inclusive, equitable workplaces to successfully recruit and retain women into their workforce. Representatives from two of VWW’s partners, Vermont Agency of Transporation and Pike Industries, joined Vermont Works for Women in Washington, D.C. in late September for the Women in Infrastructure Workforce Initiative convening, discussing best practices for equity hiring plans on state infrastructure projects.
The Women in Infrastructure Workforce Initiative expects to grow the percentage of women working in the construction trades and entering and completing apprenticeship programs and will work to promote policies and practices that ensure women and people of color find equitable, inclusive, and respectful working conditions.
Here in Vermont, VWW is working with partners to leverage expanded resources to support pre-apprenticeship training and other essential supportive services and provide guidance to project owners, public agencies, apprenticeship programs, unions, and contractors on best practices to increase opportunities for women to enter and succeed in the skilled trades. The initiative will promote tradeswomen retention with mentorship, peer support, guidance, and skill building to advance in skilled trade occupations.
“As a leader in the construction talent development and a VWW Board member, I envision this proposal to help fill the workforce gaps in Vermont trades,” said Mary Anne Sheahan, Executive Director of the Vermont Talent Pipeline. “The shared commitment on behalf of these partners to open the doors for change is invaluable to both industry and workers.”
VWW released the Equity in Infrastructure framework for Vermont this month. The overarching goals of the framework are to expand pathways, recruit women into the trades, and retain women in the workforce. The framework is a resource and roadmap for state government and agencies, contractors, career and technical education centers, and K-12 education to support this endeavor.
“Reaching out and having a conversation is where this work will begin,” said Basden. “We are excited to launch this framework and help provide a comprehensive guide to possibilities and opportunities for many across Vermont. We can all be a part of ensuring that we are meeting our workforce needs, providing economic independence for more Vermonters, and investing in our communities for our shared future.”
Vermont Works for Women (VWW) promotes economic justice by advancing gender equity and supporting women and youth at every stage of their career journeys. Its programs include: career education and exploration for middle and high school girls and gender-expansive youth; employment and career coaching and hard skills training for women, including incarcerated women; and gender equity services for schools and businesses to improve educational and workplace cultures for women.
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