Written by Gabriel Dillard
On International Women’s Day (March 8th) the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board announced an all women’s cohort as part of the ValleyBuild Program. This special cohort is dubbed ValleyBuild NOW (Non-traditional Occupations for Women).
ValleyBuild NOW has key difference from the regular ValleyBuild program, which has been providing trades apprenticeship opportunities for the last 14 years. ValleyBuild NOW is aimed at helping address the gaps preventing women from pursuing careers in the construction fields.
In partnership with Oakland nonprofit Tradeswomen, Inc., ValleyBuild NOW will provide specialized workshops with topics that include leadership development and overcoming gender stigmas in the workplace. Participants in the cohort will learn from other female leaders including trainers from trades affiliates and journeywomen, who will present the curriculum and provide instruction.
“I am incredibly excited about the all-women’s cohort,” said Ashley Matthews, Project Coordinator. “This is something that I wanted to see for a long time, and I think it is incredibly important.”
“The women going through the program are going to have careers that change their lives.”
Matthews says there will be 20 women in the cohort. The ValleyBuild NOW enhancement is eight weeks long and will offer up to 13 different trades. Each woman that joins the program will come out of the process with the opportunity to apply to multiple apprenticeships in whatever trades she decides on.
“We want to recruit women to make this kind of work accessible and not as intimidating when a woman walks onto a construction site. Through this program, they will have the confidence and opportunity to work in construction,” she said.
Attendees will be able to graduate with certification in areas and skills including CPR, OSHA, first aid, forklift safety and hazardous waste awareness.
“We are always looking for ways to better our group — especially for women — and this is our latest endeavor,” said Blake Konczal, Executive Director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board. “If we don’t have a workforce here, jobs are imported from the Bay Area or Los Angeles and we couldn’t allow that when we have workers here.”
He says the training and jobs being generated help the local economy — a win-win for the area.
“I want to see an increase of good paying, career path jobs by qualified local residents,” Konczal said.
ValleyBuild NOW has been successful in securing state grant funding. There is a need to provide equitable representation in construction and the program’s goal is to increase the number of women who are construction apprentices. There will be workshops and hands-on experience along the pathway to apprenticeship.
Konczal says the training that is offered is only possible because of partnerships with groups including the Building Trades Council (BTC). There are four of them in the Valley —The San Joaquin BTC, The Valley BTC, The Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare BTC, and The Kern, Inyo, Mono BTC. .
“BTC’s participation and training directly prepares people for union construction jobs and we couldn’t run the program without them,” he said.
Chuck Riojas, Secretary/Treasurer of the Fresno Madera Kings Tulare Building & Construction Trades Council, and Natalie Palugyai, Secretary of Labor for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, both helped spearhead the program.
Everyone involved in the partnership wants to see more women get into construction and earn a livable wage that is sustainable for a family.
Registration for the pre apprentice program is required. Women interested in the program need to go to the website valleybuild.net and fill out an application. Under a partnership with Fresno City College, website registrants will get help figuring out what they need to do to prepare themselves. Specific areas of assistance include math preparation and English for ESL..
Applicants must be at least 18-years-old, must be able to pass a drug test, be in good physical condition and have a GED/High School Diploma. The training prepares women to apply for apprenticeships as bricklayers, cement masons, electricians, glazers, iron workers, laborers, operating engineers, painters, plumbers/pipefitters, roofers, sheet metal workers and surveyors.
Enrollment begins in April. The program runs from Aug. 8 through Sept. 30. ValleyBuild NOW hopes to make it an annual event.