New York Recruits Women for 9/11 Hardhat Jobs

Friday, April 2, 2004

More than $10 billion dollars is slated to repair the damage in lower Manhattan wrought by the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. With worker shortages in the construction trades, organizations are reaching out to women for the highly paid jobs.

Dana Havas

(WOMENSENEWS)--Hundreds of women lined up in the rain outside New York's Pace University Wednesday night to hear about finding work in fields that most had never dreamed of entering.

As the sounds of hammers hitting nails rang out, women got a glimpse of what life might be like on a construction site. They caught sight of electrical installation and surveyors' tools and watched female workers fit a kitchen exhauststack. And, they got a chance to meet and greetthe women who have chosen to make their living with their physical strength and their skilled hands.

Over the next 13 years, thousands of jobs will be created in Lower Manhattan as the city seeks to repair the damage wrought by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. More than $10 billion in federal funds, insurance proceeds and other sources is slated for the efforts that will require massive amounts of labor. With worker shortages in the skilled construction trades--which include electrical workers, carpenters and plumbers
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--and state and federal quotas for hiring women in government-funded work, organizations across the city are trying to make sure that women find out about and apply for the often high-paying jobs that will be available.

"We want to make sure the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan is done by a diverse workforce that is reflective of the diversity of New York City," said Amy Peterson, vice president of memorial, cultural and civic development for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which sponsored the free informational conference to introduce women to careers in the construction industry.

Other event sponsors included the governments of the city and state of New York, Nontraditional Employment for Women, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Building Trade Employer's Association and the General Contractors Association, all based in New York City

Not an Easy Sell

In the state of New York, 52 percent of paid workers are female. And, according to the National Women's Business Council, the number of women-owned construction firms has grown 35 percent between 1997 and 2002.

Nevertheless, despite the much larger than expected turnout for the evening event--about 700 women attended the event--luring women to these skilled trades may be a tough sell.

Women have not traditionally thought of or been encouraged to enter such fields, said Francis X. McArdle, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York, Inc. Even though more universities and training programs begin to qualify women in these nontraditional trades, employers are still battling to attract women to meet federal and state contract guidelines that 6.9 percent of the workforce be female.

Some 26 years after these goals were put in place, less than 3 percent of workers in the skilled construction trades are women. In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women made up 2.75 percent of workers in the construction and extraction occupations, down from 3.03 percent in 2000.

The Allure of the Outdoors, High Wages

Adding to the rush to attract women to construction is the worker shortage that's been facing the industry for the last four years.

"Companies are looking to women to fill the gaps," said Dede Hughes, an executive vice president at the National Association of Women in Construction in a phone interview from Fort Worth, Texas. "Women are also doing a good job. That is part of the acceptance. Women are fulfilling a need and doing well and, with more acceptance, more women are seeing construction as a positive career move."

Perhaps most attractive, says Hughes, is the high wages and the opportunities for women who do not want to sit behind a desk. Because the jobs are unionized, wages for men and women are the same.

"It's a wide open field and we want women to get out there and know it's a viable career."

Demonstrating her work for the crowd at Pace, Cynthia "Torie" Aldrich from the New York City District Council of Carpenters, said she is convinced it is a good time for women to enter the skilled trades.

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