While there continues to be some progress in the social acceptance of women’s equality, the gender gap is still in evident abundance – particularly when it comes to high-paying trades that have traditionally been filled by men. At Washington County Community College on October 27th, a daylong event called Totally Trades was organized to showcase these nontraditional trades to 160 young women from area schools, giving them the opportunity to experience them hands-on and to consider what each of them is capable of.
“We hope this day will help you unlock your potential as young women who might consider a career in the trades,” said Susan Mingo, Dean of Enrollment Management and Student Services, as she addressed the students. Mingo provided statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor that indicate that some of the highest paying jobs in the country – those in natural resources, construction, and maintenance – are held by a workforce comprised of only four percent women.
Prior to dispersing for a variety of hands-on workshops, the students heard from Joyce Taylor, Chief Engineer of the Maine Department of Transportation. Taylor is the state’s first female chief engineer. “We need you in our work force,” Taylor said, emphasizing that the state is experiencing a shortfall in employees.
While she recognized that every path is an individual one, Taylor offered advice to the young women present. “One of my big pieces of advice is to stop and listen,” she said. “Learn to listen. You’ll be amazed, if you ask one question, how it can lead to the next question.” She said that the path of a woman in the trades is not always easy.
Aside from honest, ethical behavior, Taylor stressed the importance of paying attention to certain subjects. “Embrace math. Every job uses some math,” Taylor said. “Crane operators make the most money at construction sites. They have to calculate wind velocity, weight of the load, and to triangulate.”
Lastly, Taylor advised the young women to search out people that could help them excel. “Find mentors who will be honest with you,” she said, describing her first boss as “brutally honest”, but adding how much the experience benefitted her. “Find mentors who make your brain hurt from thinking.”
After hearing from positive role models, the young women set out to their chosen workshops. Each student had the opportunity to pick two workshops from a long list that included building birdhouses, learning how to wire for electrical trades, crafting a hook with a traditional hammer and anvil, using an excavator, donning firefighting equipment, law enforcement, and many more.
Once the workshops were complete, the students responded enthusiastically when asked how they felt the day went. Of the electrical workshop, Grayson from Charlotte Elementary said, “I liked that they actually walked you through it. They showed you how to do it if you needed help. We got to wire a box, wire a light switch, then wire a bend pipe and cut pipe.” Michelle from Shead enjoyed her first experience driving an excavator. “We played on a simulator to learn how to do the controls on an excavator, then we actually got to use the excavator and move a log from one place to another,” she said.