Why women are finally starting to get construction jobs in Mass.

A local movement is paving the way for female electricians, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, and more.

The Boston Globe | By Shira Springer
October 25, 2016

women-constructionPULLING WIRE FOR TEMPORARY LIGHTS, electrician Shara Noldseiro moves quickly, gloved hands in near constant motion. Her petite frame, draped in a neon-yellow hoodie, is dwarfed by the steel-beam skeleton of a luxury condo complex taking shape near North Station. The 36-year-old Noldseiro first took an interest in construction when she was in her early 20s but was too intimidated by the prospect of finding a job on her own. Instead, she worked days as a meter maid, nights as a caretaker at a homeless shelter, and weekends as a tattoo artist. Only after she was laid off from her job at the homeless shelter three years ago did she decide to give the building trades a serious look.

Noldseiro, now a second-year apprentice electrician, reflects the growing presence — at long last — of female construction workers on job sites around Massachusetts. That’s been an industry goal since 1978, when President Carter issued an amended executive order to increase the percentage of work hours for women on construction projects receiving federal funds. His timetable: Women would hold 6.9 percent of work hours within four years. But there was no effective enforcement mechanism, and for nearly three decades, no place in the country came close to hitting that goal in any sustained way. The national average continues to hover in the 2 percent to 3 percent range. Finally, though, things are changing in this area.

These days, when it comes to employing women in the trades, Massachusetts is among the leaders, according to Susan Moir, director of research for UMass Boston’s Labor Resource Center. (At the city level, not enough good data exist to make comparisons between Boston and other major metros around the country.)

In 2015, tradeswomen filled nearly 6.3 percent of apprentice positions in Massachusetts — up from 4.2 percent in 2012. Women also accounted for 5 percent of construction work hours in Boston in 2015, and they saw a tenfold increase in work hours from 2010 to 2015 for projects covered by the Boston Residents Job Policy. Moir says the rising number of female electricians, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, insulators, and sheet-metal workers on jobs here — many of them women of color — shows “there’s something special about what’s going on in Boston and Massachusetts.”

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