After placing the final touch to my newly crafted table I took a step back to admire my work. It was built by sweat, power tools, and my two hands from concept to this final, sweet moment when it was completed. As a neighbor walked by I called him over and I proudly showed him my latest masterpiece. As he approached, he nodded his head and in his Missouri drawl he commented, “It doesn’t surprise me that you did such a good job, you’re an Alaskan woman.”
“An Alaska woman.” The line got me thinking, about how it didn’t matter to the newly constructed table that it was built by a woman, and then my thoughts went farther about Alaska women in the workforce, specifically trades. In Alaska we have a history of evaluating people by what they can accomplish, build, work on and, in general, what skills they have rather than whether or not they wear business attire and hair gel. We value people who can improve the world around them through their skills and labor, both men and women. Growing up here in Alaska in the ‘80s we had Iditarod champion Susan Butcher show off first-hand how tough and capable women are. So, for me, I wasn’t proud of building a table because I am a woman, I was proud of my new table because it was built by a human. Gender doesn’t factor into the quality of the construction work.
So why aren’t more women, specifically Alaska women, taking advantage of the opportunities provided in the trades industry?
The trades industry in Alaska is big. Alaska is among the states that individuals can go into the trades and earn comparable or even higher earnings than their college graduate counterparts – with the added bonus that in trades, the education you receive is often on a learn-and-earn system. Apprentices who embark on the trades path are paid while they learn the skills they need to achieve their career – meaning, no massive tuition payments nor crippling debt.
But there is a problem, people are not choosing to go into trades and high paying quality jobs in Alaska are left unfilled. To help get the word out about the excellent job opportunities trades offer the Alaska Apprenticeship Training Coordinators Association (AATCA), put together this video in hopes of explaining to Alaskans the benefits of going into trades.
Even nationally there is a push to educate people on the benefits of going into trades. The NPR Ed team covered this exact topic on a national level in this story from April of this year: Here This push is to remind people, of all genders, of the advantages of going into trades, but there is also a more specific push to remind the underrepresented women that trades is an excellent option for a good life. Success stories of Alaska women in trades can be found all over the internet including this success story about Jennifer Sullivan, from the Alaska Piledrivers and Divers Apprenticeship Program, listed at the bottom of the webpage: http://labor.alaska.gov/bp/step.htm
The quest to involve more Alaska women in the trades programs is highlighted at the Alaska ACTE Professional Development Conference this year with guest keynote speaker Kayleen McCabe, star of DIY series Rescue Renovation. McCabe will be championing her respect for the trades careers and will shed light on the national demand for trade professionals.
Women are, of course, welcome in any of the trades programs throughout Alaska, but for those who prefer learning with other women there are options to get involved with Women in the Trades programs such as this one with Alaska Works: http://www.alaskaworks.org/index.php?page=women-in-the-trades
If you’re interested in exploring options, classes are coming up in October and November of this year and are continually offered throughout the year.
So, roll up your sleeves, fellow tough and capable Alaskans, and mush your own Iditarod, build your table, and check out the opportunities offered through trades.