by Judy Bass
Over 400 female students from 18 high schools across the state flocked to the headquarters of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester by the busload on March 30, 2016 to attend the first-ever Massachusetts Girls in Trades Conference and Career Fair. Also present were 45 educators and 50 exhibitors.
“This was a historic moment for career and technical education,” said Maryanne Ham, who was one of the event’s main organizers and is supervisor of educator evaluations and Advisory Committee lead at Minuteman High School in Lexington.
The unprecedented occasion was spurred by professionals from education, labor, industry and several unions who formed an organization called the Massachusetts Girls in Trade Advisory Group. Their mission is to encourage young women learning the building trades by providing them with information about employment and apprenticeship opportunities, mentoring, support and role models. Fostering an atmosphere of community and empowerment for these girls is also one of their aims.
This whole initiative was jointly originated and spearheaded by Minuteman and Wynn Everett. Jennie Peterson, development manager of Wynn Everett, explained that she and Ms. Ham talked about “the need to bring more women into the trades, specifically because Wynn has goals for hiring women as part of our construction workforce. We reached out to our respective networks and brought the right people together.”
Michelle Roche, director of Career and Technical Education at Minuteman who was another organizer of the event, delivered the opening remarks. She pointed out that having a pipeline connecting young women with opportunities in the burgeoning construction trades is crucial. After Ms. Roche’s welcome, the students in attendance, who are planning to enter traditionally male-dominated fields such as construction and carpentry, heard inspiring keynote speakers like Assistant Superintendent Amenyonah Bossman of Suffolk Construction.
She described the career path she followed which took her from working with her stepfather as a teenager remodeling homes and eventually to the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in Construction Management. Ms. Bossman went to night school, was an apprentice carpenter, and parlayed an internship with Suffolk Construction into a Project Coodinator position that led to her becoming an Assistant Superintendent with the company.
Ms. Bossman exhorted the girls to “do what you love to do most. That is how you succeed.”
Another memorable speaker was student Samantha Dorwin, who is studying Machine Technology at the McCann Technical School in North Adams. Ms. Dorwin, a national officer of SkillsUSA, an organization that allows students in career and technical education to compete in a host of rigorous technical and leadership competitions, said she “needed something that would set me apart” when choosing her high school and career path.
Her aptitude for using state-of-the-art tools made her pick Machine Technology, and that decision, coupled with her involvement with SkillsUSA, helped Ms. Dorwin earn professional certifications while she was still in high school, expand her communication and teamwork abilities, and increase her employability potential.
“Together,” Ms. Dorwin told the students, “we’re ready to impact the world. Yes, we will succeed!”
The next speaker, Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for 74 local unions representing 75,000 men and women, affirmed the exciting job opportunities awaiting girls in the trades.
“Too many women have been frozen out” of the trades in the past, he observed. “You should feel comfortable in a union hall or at a job site. Massachusetts Girls in Trade shows that many young women are interested in rewarding, high-wage careers in the trades. The doors to the Massachusetts Building Trades Unions are wide open to them.”
After the speeches, the large group of students and educators was divided into two smaller groups. One group browsed among the exhibitors’ tables, which included Mass DOT, IBEW Local 7, Wynn Resorts, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, SkillsUSA and dozens more. Simultaneously, the other group attended workshops. One, for educators, was titled “What, How and Why – Registered Apprenticeships.” The students’ workshop was about “Becoming a Union Tradeswoman.” Then the two groups switched places so everyone had a chance to see the exhibitors and go to the workshops.
Before the event concluded, Ms. Roche was joined on stage by students from SkillsUSA who read aloud from citations honoring the day’s activities from Governor Charles D. Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Ms. Roche announced that there will be a follow-up event for parents of high school young women and alumnae from career and technical schools who are interested in the trades at the New England Carpenters Training Fund in Millbury on May 25, 2016 from 5:00 p.m, to 8:00 p.m. Please contact Maryanne Ham at [email protected] for more information.
Ms. Roche extended sincere thanks to IBEW Local 103 for hosting the event, and to the Boston Metropolitan Building Trades Council and the Building Trades Employers Association for sponsoring lunch for all the attendees.
Valuable assistance from the following four individuals who were key organizers and presenters and are on the Advisory Board helped make the event a resounding success: Executive Director Mary Vogel of Building Pathways; Business Representative / Organizer Elizabeth Skidmore of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues; Maura Russell of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office for Career / Vocational-Technical Education; and President / Training Director John Healy of the Building Trade Training Directors Association of Massachusetts and the Sheet Metal Workers Training Center Local 17 (Mr. Healy organized all 17 unionized trades to be represented at the event).
The participants’ response to the Mass. Girls in Trades Conference and Career Fair was strongly enthusiastic. “Awesome” was how Vocational Director Leslie Weckesser of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton described it. “For the kickoff to be that good,” she said, “I am excited for where this is going.”
Ms. Weckesser added that each of the 20 Southeastern Regional students who went to the event was asked to obtain two business cards from industry personnel and show them to her on the bus ride home as proof that they made new professional contacts.
For Midalia Ramos, a senior from Watertown in the Electrical program at Minuteman, the experience was truly rewarding, possibly even life-changing. “One of my most memorable moments,” said Ms. Ramos, “was speaking to one of the tradeswomen at the IBEW Local 103 booth. She is now ten years into her career and was really inspiring. I’m hoping she will be able to mentor me because we really hit it off. For the first time in my life, I really want something, and that is to join the IBEW and be a part of Local 103.”