Income inequality can, in part, be traced back to the differences between traditionally male and female industries, as people who work in blue-collar jobs are compensated at a much higher rate than those in pink-collar jobs. The national average for women in industries like construction, maintenance, utilities, green, transportation and other nontraditional career paths is abysmally low, and in addition, the work is demanding, can come with harassment and resentment, and can be disrupted or even threatened by the more traditional roles that women play, like mother and caretaker.
In New York City, however, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) is working to change this inequality by offering pre-apprenticeship skills for women to enter into blue-collar careers. Their strategy is a simple one: by entering into symbiotic partnerships with unions and the real estate industry, NEW creates a sustainable system wherein trade unions and companies need to employ qualified workers, and NEW is training qualified workers that need to be employed. Through these partnerships NEW is making room in high-paying industries for low-income minority women and supplying the construction and real estate industries with a diverse, highly-qualified workforce.
NEW’s Pre-Apprenticeship Program
NEW, founded in 1978, is a free pre-apprenticeship program operating throughout New York City’s five boroughs that offers a 7-week day program or 8-week evening/weekend program to prepare women for the skills needed in union apprenticeship programs. All that applicants need are a GED or higher, a TABE test that assesses their math and reading skills, and the will to better their lives through their career. During the program, women learn basic construction math, receive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training, and hear from guest speakers from the different trades.
Besides NEW’s commitment to career training, they are also aware of the difficulties that women must face in nontraditional employment. They offer a Social Services component of the program that makes sure women have safe housing and that child care is taken care of during work hours. NEW’s Job Readiness component deals directly with issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and how to prevent it.
The Impact for Women
NEW focuses specifically on training for skilled blue collar labor because of the benefits it offers underprivileged women who have little else. Pat Chambers Daly, Vice President of Development External Affairs, says, “A lot of these women come to us out of homeless shelters, out of prisons. They want better lives.” Many of NEW’s graduates come into the program as single moms, half of them are on assistance, and 80% are low-income. With the services that NEW offers, they are able to lift themselves and their children out of poverty. One of NEW’s graduates, Tenee, came to NEW with almost nothing. She saw a NEW ad on a bus and thought that it might be her chance to take agency in her life. By the time she had graduated from NEW and gone through the carpenter’s union apprenticeship program, she had, according to Daly, “plenty of food, bills paid, a new car, and a new house. Everything taken care of.”
Daly says, “It’s a great field for women to be in. Women love this work.” It also pays more than minimum wage, a step up for the vast majority of NEW graduates who cannot attend college, and even is more financially beneficial than traditional jobs for women, such as Home Health Aides, who earn more than $40,000 less than nontraditional women workers, according to the US Department of Labor. Benefits are generally much better and more secure for women going into nontraditional employment as well. Because of NEW’s partnerships with the various trade unions, women typically walk into careers where they can attain a level of income and opportunity equality unprecedented in other career paths in New York. “What I love about the unions,” Daly says, “is that they are non-discriminatory. Women get the same pay because of the work that the unions do.”
The Role of Sustainable Partnerships
NEW’s partnerships are what make it a truly successful employment organization, especially in a career field where only 3% of the national workforce is women. In New York City, that average is 3% higher than the national average specifically because of the work that NEW does to create partnerships with local construction unions, the real estate industry, and their Board of Directors.
Part of why these partnerships work so well is because of the symbiotic relationship between them. Ten percent of all union shift announcements are set aside for women, and NEW serves as a direct pipeline for well-qualified workers. While NEW has a ready supply of work for their graduates, the unions and trade industries have a ready supply of trained workers. In addition, NEW’s graduates are a diverse population aside from their gender, and they add to the overall diversity of the workforce.
While NEW’s impact is to raise up underserved women as financially stable in a city like New York in jobs that are fulfilling, Daly says that the real takeaway for other nonprofits working in employment service is the kind of sustainability that comes from finding that two-way relationship with an industry. She enjoys “when we can marry our mission with” what partners need and believes that an organization can truly succeed when they have identified companies and industries that align with their mission. When those alignments become a continuous feedback, there will always be a job for someone who needs it, and the organization, like NEW, can make make change for many decades to come.
Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) prepares, trains, and places women in careers in the skilled construction, utility, and maintenance trades, helping women achieve economic independence and a secure future. At the same time, NEW provides a pipeline of qualified workers to the industries that build, move, power, green and maintain New York.
Krystin Gollihue is a current doctoral student in the Communication, Rhetoric, & Digital Media program at NC State University. Her research focuses on digitally-born composing practices and American Indian digital rhetoric.