U.P. program lays foundation for women/minorities in trades

Michigan State Roundup

Published April 1, 1994  | April 1994 issue

In Marquette, the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) Women and Minorities Institute trains women and minorities in a pre-apprenticeship program for the skilled trades that is the first of its kind in Michigan.

The initial eight-week training was held in fall 1993 to encourage women and minorities to choose careers in the trades. The institute is overseen by the Women's Center in Marquette.

"There is no reason why women can't do any of the 800 apprenticeable trades," says Suzanne Kensington, executive director of the Women's Center, a 20-year-old nonprofit agency offering counseling and support services to women. For now, the institute is gearing the pre-apprenticeship training to the building trades, of which there is a high ratio in the U.P., according to Kensington.

Federal statutes mandate that 7 percent of workers in construction trades funded with federal money be women and minorities. The national level is currently 1.3 percent. Further, states that receive federal funds for job training must develop more training in non-traditional fields for women.

Trade representatives were eager to work closely with the institute to set up the training, says Kensington, in part because they will get well-qualified applicants for their effort.

The pre-apprenticeship training begins with a one-day orientation to acquaint prospective students with the demands, expectations and prospects for jobs in the trades. Of the 30 that attended the first orientation, 10 applicants were selected to attend the intensive eight-week course. A variety of day-long classes were held, ranging from math to body building. Nine graduated—"and tested high," says Kensington—then went on to apply for apprenticeships.

Placement in apprenticeships is expected to be high. Apprenticeships, the direct line to certified journeyman status in most trades, last from two to four years, depending on the trade. During a graduate's apprenticeship, the Women's Center provides support services.

The institute hopes to offer pre-apprenticeship training for more trades as the program matures. The institute does not promise jobs in the U.P.; rather, it considers the training a workboot in the door to the trades nationwide. While the first session was considered a success, funding for subsequent sessions is not yet available.

The institute is a collaboration of the Michigan Women's Foundation, the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau and the Women's Center in Marquette. It receives assistance from the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training and the Northern Michigan University Labor Education Department as well.

Nettie Pignatello