By Hilary Ross, Program Events Specialist
Boston is in the midst of a historic construction boom. New buildings are going up on the Northeastern University campus, gleaming new office towers and apartments are rising at the Seaport, and the new Boston Public Schools administrative building recently opened in Dudley Square. The boom brings a new skyline, opportunities for businesses, and new jobs in the building trade for Boston residents, along with concerns about rental prices.
Since 1980, the city has implemented quotas to ensure building trade jobs are equitably contracted, reflecting the city’s diversity. Construction sites must make a good faith effort to contract 50 percent of all jobs to Boston residents, 25 percent to racial and ethnic minority groups, and 10 percent to women. Yet, in 2014, only 4.4 percent of construction site jobs were contracted to women. While companies and the city are working to improve the rate at which women are hired for construction jobs, there’s a lack of women in the sector’s pipeline.
One of our partner organizations, Sisters at Work (S.A.W.), is actively changing the landscape by introducing young women to the trades and preparing them for jobs with livable salaries and benefits. The S.A.W. Youth Program is geared toward at-risk young women who reside in Boston neighborhoods, including Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.
This past Saturday, Big Sister Boston and S.A.W. hosted a carpentry and construction activity in Dorchester for Big and Little Sister matches. The day was designed to teach Little Sisters basic carpentry skills and introduce them to careers in the building trades. Mikey Miles, carpenter and founder of S.A.W., and Shamaiah Turner, a sheet metal worker and volunteer with S.A.W., gathered an inspiring team of women volunteers – including carpenters, electricians, a contractor, and an interior decorator – who instructed and led Little Sisters in building and designing their own small wooden chests.
Upon arrival, Big and Little Sisters met the S.A.W. volunteers, who showed them their work stations, including a set of tools and pre-cut wood for each girl. The Little Sisters appeared excited, but apprehensive about the projects before them. As the day went on, their confidence visibly increased as they put their new skills into action. Little Sisters learned to use a drill and a hammer, and successfully built their wooden chest with the guidance of the tradeswomen. If Little Sisters made a mistake, the tradeswomen showed them how to try again or to fix it, a crucial life skill. Once they finished constructing, Big and Little Sisters painted and designed the finished project with the help of an experienced decorator. By the end, each Little Sister had a beautiful, hand-crafted piece to take home and the confidence that comes with learning new skills.
After a well-deserved lunch, Big and Little Sisters had the chance to learn more about the tradeswomen and hear a bit of their stories. We heard from Steph Jeffers, an electrician, who explained how electrical wires are installed. Steph, Shamaiah, and Mikey especially emphasized the importance of studying math and science to enter the building trades. For instance, carpenters regularly do math in their head as they measure wood, sheet metal workers calculate the size of metal, and electricians use physics formulas like Ohm’s Law. Steph shared that after high school, she started college and had an office job, but quickly knew that path wasn’t for her. She wanted to work with her hands and apply her math and science skills. She discovered a program that introduced her to the trades, and soon took the test to enter an electrician’s apprentice program. Today, she’s in her fourth year of her apprenticeship – funded by her union, and on her way to becoming a certified electrician.
We’d like to express our thanks to S.A.W. and their volunteers for fundraising to provide the materials, developing the activity, and providing expert guidance. Through partners like S.A.W., Little Sisters can participate in activities that expose them to new skills and opportunities.
And, as always, thank you to our Big Sisters, whose guidance and support help Little Sisters to develop their strengths while exploring options for their futures. If your Little Sister is interested in learning more about careers in the building trades, S.A.W. provides summer programming. Additionally, you can check out the Building Pathways: Building Trades Pre-Apprenticeship program, or connect with a local union to learn more about their job opportunities.