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Article Title: Women are Tradesmen TooEdition: August 2001
Category: General Interest
Author: Kim Brittenham
Women work in the building trades. This may not be evident since the numbers are quite small -- 3% of our nation's tradesmen are women. Central Vermont's figures may be leaner still (metropolitan areas tend to employ more women), but there are female faces, voices, and strength adding to our community.
Strong individuals, these women have made a place for themselves as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and welders. Some have gone it alone, entering a nontraditional work field following a dream or a need to make a better living (entry-level jobs in the trades garner an average of $3 over minimum wage). Others have relied upon local training programs like STEP-UP for Women.
Over 1,000 Vermont women have gone through trades training programs like STEP-UP with Northern New England Tradeswomen (N.N.E.T.W.) over the association's fifteen years. Headquartered on Main Street in Barre, this feisty group builds and supports Vermont's tradeswomen community. N.N.E.T.W. is responsible for many ongoing programs around the state, puts on nontraditional work day events at schools and in prison, sponsors the Annual New England Tradeswomen Conference at Montpelier's Capitol Plaza each April, and lobbies for legislation to better support women working in the trades.
Fitness Training & Hands-On SkillsSTEP-UP for Women helps women land jobs in the trades, a daunting feat for many. Held previously in Rutland, Burlington, and now Montpelier, a group of 13 women meet from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday for a nine-week session. Participants do physical training at First in Fitness each morning, attend a women's resource class at Bethany church, and spend the afternoon practicing hands-on skills. Women wire circuits, weld pipe, and build 8 foot by 10 foot tool sheds. Funded with a combination of state, federal, and private monies, local businesses also play a role. As part of job preparation, women write resumes, interview with, and go on job shadows at area businesses like Hasman Electric, E. F. Wall, and Summit Construction.
N.N.E.T.W. Executive Director, Tiff Bluemle, sites local businesses, "Montpelier employers have been receptive and supportive of what we're trying to do. With STEP-UP's proven success and a holistic attitude I expect they will help us more in putting on these programs."
STEP-UP is Jan Ruda's way of giving back to the community. A graduate herself, Ruda has been working as an electrician for almost five years. She did her apprenticeship (a four-year process of onsite work and evening classes) with Norway & Sons of Barre City and Mann Electric of Fairlee. Now a full-fledged Journeyman, Ruda still works with Mann Electric on high-end residences in the Hanover area, and takes local side jobs in evenings and on weekends.
Before changing careers, Ruda worked for years as a Physical Education and Health instructor for Saint Monicas, and as a stressed computer programmer in Boston prior to moving to Vermont. Electrics offer her many plusses she didn't find in her previous jobs -- most importantly a variety and diversity in daily tasks and clients. Working predominantly with residential wiring, she loves to troubleshoot and see immediate results. Ruda's clients comment on her neat wiring, a quality Ruda attributes to her peers at Mann Electric and working with finely skilled carpenters. Ruda is also Step-up's primary electrical teacher.
Treated Like "One of the Guys"Rachel Beard has been running wire in Montpelier and Barre for the past five years. She got her start in high school during Barre Vocational Center's building trades program. The class built a house and nobody else wanted to wire it. Beard did. Still in school, she apprenticed and received her Journeyman license with Middlesex Electric. Beard now works with Walbridge Electric of Montpelier. Working alone or in pairs, Beard enjoys working with different people and going somewhere new every day. "All the guys are terribly friendly," remarks Beard. She's heard the horror stories of men giving women a tough go on the job, but hasn't experienced ill will herself. "Of course they treat you like one of the guys. You have to get along with that."
But Beard is not your typical "guy". In addition to working full time in the trades, she parents two children with her partner Chris Keast in Marshfield. Their youngest, William Keast Beard is five months old. Beard is a native Vermonter, daughter of Bill Beard (longtime Boy Scouts leader), and the grandniece of Paul and Pat Sykas (of Lobster Pot Restaurant).
Making Money in the TradesAnnie Ross has lived in Montpelier for the past 15 years. From her beautiful lavender Victorian on Liberty Street, Ross animatedly tells her hard knocks story. In 1977 Ross determined she needed to make a real living. "All the people I knew who were making any money were in the trades." Ross got her initial skills fixing her own plumbing, then her friend's pipes, until she ventured into the job market. Hitchhiking to work while leaving a baby in daycare, Ross held her first job with a local plumber. "It was a bumpy road at first," admits Ross, of being a single mom doing residential plumbing. She soon determined the real money was in commercial plumbing, and in 1980 began her career with New England Air. With them she worked all over the state and got her plumbing license and then Masters in 1984.
Ross now works with A. Cooper & Sons, a Canadian company doing contractual work for the I.B.M. facility in Essex. She's a member of the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union (since 1984), serving as Treasurer for the past five years and sitting on the union's Apprenticeship Board. Ross's daughter, Grace Ross, is taking after Mom having worked in the trades as an electrical apprentice.
Both Ruda and Ross taught portions of a recent ground breaking training session at the Dale Correctional Facility in Waterbury. Dale is Vermont's new and only female prison. Nine inmates graduated July 20 from a specially tuned STEP-UP program marking a huge success for both Dale and N.N.E.T.W.. Graduates were wildly applauded during a ceremony attended by family, friends, the Governor's Commission on Women, state training officials, and correctional officers. Funding has been secured from the Department of P.A.T.H. and D.E.T., And three more sessions will take place over the next year at Dale.
During the ceremony women sang the popular Indigo Girls' tune, Hammer and a Nail
Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.
Many tradeswomen talk of empowerment and a resulting excitement once they've broken through and settled into a good job. While the barriers can be formidable, women continue to make strides and futures in the building trades.
Interested in exploring the trades yourself? Recruitment is underway now for the next Montpelier session of STEP-UP for Women running September 17 to November 16, 2001.
Contact InformationNorthern New England Tradeswomen, N.N.E.T.W. - 189 North Main Street #9, Barre, Vermont 05641, www.nnetw.org
Step-up For Women - 1-800-639-1472
Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow (T.N.T.), national organization - care of: Chicago Women in Trades, 1657 West Adams, Suite #401, Chicago, Illinois 60612, www.TradesWomenNow.org
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