Apprenticeships help women enter blue collar trades
Since Rosie the Riveter was phased out of her factory job after her patriotic World War II duty, few women have had the opportunity to do skilled craftwork. Until recent years, sex and age discrimination have already barred them.Skip to next paragraph
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Now the women's liberation movement, new government rules and regulations, and apprenticeship programs in the erstwhile "male territory" trades are beginning to change the employment scene.
For the past several years, women have been pushing back into blue collar, nontraditional trades, establishing a beachhead for themselves as auto mechanics , welders, machinists, tool and die makers, electricians, and construction workers.
Today several federal laws prohibit sex descrimination in apprenticeship and require affirmative action for women in areas of the labor force in which they were underutilized. This means that trained women craft workers are now able to command from $6 to $12 an hour in many male-dominated fields.
A recent success story, in which women proved their capacity for doing strenuous outdoor work under hardship conditions, involved the building of the Alaska pipeline. More than 2,500 women (11 percent of the work force on the project) labored in all kinds of weather to help complete the pipeline.
Today apprenticeships are enabling women to move into better-paying jobs. These operate, as they have for thousands of years, to ensure the orderly transfer of skills from one group or generation to another. Most often now the apprentice process is a formal arrangement including employers, unions, vocational and technical schools, and individuals who want to learn skilled craftworks.
Many corporations, including the Bell Telephone System, have worked out their own affirmative-action programs and have set goals and objectives for hiring and advancing women and minorities. Bell has set up its own system for training women linemen, mechanics, truck drivers, installers, the repair technicians.
The US Labor Department, through its Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, is helping many other companies set up apprenticeship programs and is informing women of their existence.
Alexis M. Herman, director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, says, "Apprenticeship is an option we would like to make available to more women, because they need greater access to higher-paying jobs. Learning a skilled craft is certainly one good route out of poverty."
The Labor Department's revised revised regulations on equal opportunity for women and minorities in apprenticeship and in the construction industry should help reduce sex discrimination in apprenticeship programs and sex-role stereotyping in vocational education programs.
Ruth Robinson Hernandez, of the Women's Bureau Division of Information, reports that there are 10,674 women in the department's registered apprenticeship programs.These women, she says, are learning to be barbers (a highly favored field), carpenters, glaziers, floor coverers, roofers, bookbinders, and electricians. One lone woman apprentice is learning what it takes to become an ornamental iron worker.