apprenticeship training

A Blue Light on Construction Sites???


—by Susan Eisenberg

We rightly like to call apprenticeship the OTHER 4-Year Degree, and point out its advantages. But we can also use the lens of college to identify what falls short.

The day after the AP story about tradeswomen came out I gave my daughter a ride to work. She’s been commenting on tradeswomen issues since she kicked me in-utero building the Westin Hotel at Copley Place in 1983. Or when, a few years later, she came with me to referral, looked up from her coloring book at the room of men and asked in a loud kindergarten voice, Where are the women? Her take-away from the AP story was that how the construction industry deals with sexual harassment and assault wouldn’t pass muster on today’s college campus. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Anyone who’s taken their high schooler on a campus tour knows that emergency phones with blue lights are everywhere. But the issue of assault is more complex and the U.S. Dept. of Education has placed dozens of colleges under investigation for possible violation of Title IX for inadequate “handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.” Campuses nationwide have organized around this issue. In the best scenarios, universities have involved activists and victims to develop better procedures.

What’s clear is that without procedures that are workable, publicized and funded, policies on a poster are just a piece of paper. People need to not only know what to do, but be prepared and responsible to act. Like we learn CPR. One issue under particular scrutiny is reporting, including the responsibility of any college employee to report any harassment or assault they’re aware of, and procedures for when the administration’s response is inadequate.

Apprenticeship programs are a wonderful hybrid of school and work, but that also makes victims of sexual violence doubly vulnerable — both their training and employment come into jeopardy. And the perpetrator is more likely to be the equivalent (at a college) of teacher or administrator, and the person to whom they can report, more likely to be that person’s friend, colleague or relative. There are a lot of challenging issues: when assault should be reported to police, how to investigate sensitively and efficiently, how to train frontline responders to intervene effectively.

This seems like an important issue for Joint Apprenticeship Committees to join with their women members to evaluate, implement, and re-evaluate. Practices under discussion at colleges can offer a useful starting point. Advice like, Just ignore that nitwit, ignores the real damage of sexual assault on a person’s training, employment, and well-being. In an industry like construction, what does zero tolerance mean in practice?

The campus demonstration slogan, Carry the Weight Together — inspired by Emma Sulkowicz and students at Columbia — sounds a lot like Solidarity.


Women Run Work!

images-2women run work

—by Susan Eisenberg

As a kid I loved teeter totters –– the playful shift of ups and downs. There’s a rhythm, laughter. Even the meanest tricks on them were pretty harmless. As a grown-up, I can appreciate the hands-on learning. The math and physics kids figure out instinctively: the heavier person moves in so the two are balanced.

Talking about the history and experiences of tradeswomen has the same challenge: finding the balance of delight and routine and terror that feels fair and accurate. My eyes tend to roll backwards when the conversation is limited to successful pilot projects, but not whether they were replicated. Or how many women graduated pre-apprenticeship training, but not whether they were placed in apprenticeships — and fairly trained and graduated to journey level careers. Obviously with women only 2.3% of the construction workforce there’s a lot that requires concerned attention and activism.

But the goal is, of course, the satisfaction of skilled work and successful careers being available without discrimination. It’s important to celebrate the experiences that help us see that possibility. So, with the On Equal Terms installation going to New York City this fall (September 29 – November 1, 2013 at the Clemente on Manhattan’s Lower East Side!), I’m adding a new element–– Women Run Work –– to the always-shifting exhibit.

I figure that a lot must have gone right when we see a woman lead the work on a jobsite. She’s being trusted to manage a crew and manage business. Someone believes that she will get the job done right and on budget — enough to take a risk on that. I figure there were people earlier in her career who saw to it that she was well-trained, and mentored her. And maybe a good union rep or lawyer who advocated to make sure she wasn’t unfairly passed over . . . maybe a supervisor or owner who recognized talent . . .  or??? Probably different for each woman. But when a woman runs work, it likely represents a lot that’s worth celebrating.

The first responses have been heartening. I found out that high voltage electrician Wanda Davis supervises “two of the hydroelectric generation projects that produce power for Seattle” — how cool is that!!! And I’ve been interested to learn who women credit for their chance.

If you’ve run work, or know a tradeswoman who has, please fill out this form and send it in. I’ll include it in On Equal Terms. I’ll also be adding a Women Run Work page to the blog (as balance to We Remember).

I’d be glad to hear any comments on this. I know some women have told me, No one ever asked me to be foreman. Or, explained why they turned down the offer, when they were asked. And, like Diane Maurer explains in We’ll Call You If We Need You, a woman successfully running a job doesn’t always carry the same benefits as for a man. I’m curious about all that, too. But let’s also celebrate that Women Run Work!