Looking for a new job? This California program will pay women to work in construction

State and local officials are doubling down on efforts to support women in California’s central San Joaquin Valley who want to pursue careers in the construction trades. California Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Democrat who represents the Fresno area in California’s 31st district, presented a $3 million check to the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board to support its ValleyBuild construction training programs. The “program that has done such tremendous work” said Arambula during a Wednesday news conference. “Those who are under-employed and unemployed, who have barriers to employment, are given opportunities and a pathway to success.”

Earlier this year, the Workforce Development Board partnered with Tradeswomen Inc. and ValleyBuild — a 14-county collaboration between workforce boards that prepares workers for construction trades — to launch ValleyBuild NOW, or Non-traditional Occupations for Women, a pre-apprenticeship training program for women. The two-month program prepares women for careers in construction and related trades and connects them with employment opportunities. Participants also receive stipends to cover their living expenses and help with transportation and childcare costs.

The first cohort launched in August with a group of 13 women. Recent graduate Sarai Ayala said she learned about the opportunity on Instagram. The 27-year-old Ayala said she was initially in disbelief that the program would pay her to learn. Ayala worked at a local warehouse but said she was looking for something more. “I thought it was crazy,” she said, laughing. Through the training, Ayala said she was able to experiment with different construction career paths. Next week, she starts a new transitional job with the local plumbers and pipefitters. “I’m so grateful,” she said “This type of support doesn’t come around as often as it should.” Another ValleyBuild NOW Fresno cohort is planned for May 2023; a co-ed ValleyBuild training program will start in January 2023. Construction a man’s job? ‘We want to change that’

After nearly 16 years working in animal shelters Crystal Wiggins, 36, knew she needed a career change – but wasn’t sure how to navigate the transition. She already dabbled in things like welding and building cabinets as hobbies, but it wasn’t until a friend saw an advertisement on the ValleyBuild NOW training program that she decided to seriously pursue a career change. The Rosie the Riveter-inspired image caught his eye, said Wiggins. “He stumbled across it on Facebook and saw it and said, ‘this is for Crystal.'”

But Wiggins was on the fence about joining the apprenticeship. “I’m the only person who financially supports my household,” she said. Wiggins has two sons, ages 19 and 11, and cares for her mother, as well. She has three car payments for the three adults and recently purchased her home. “Losing that (stable) paycheck was scary,” she said. But ultimately, she made the decision to make the switch “because of the mileage, because of the stipend.” Women and non-binary individuals make up around 3.5% of active apprentices in the building and construction trades, California Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai said in a statement on Tuesday. “When we stop to think about why, it’s in large part because construction is widely viewed as a man’s job. We want to change that,” she said.

In addition to the funding for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, the 2022-2023 state budget includes $15 million to support the Women in Construction Priority Program at the Department of Industrial Relations. The state is also accepting proposals for $25 million in funds to support apprenticeship programs that target women, non-binary and underserved populations entering building and construction trades. As for Wiggins, she’s preparing to start her transitional job in sheet metal apprenticeship as she waits to join the union. “I know in the long run, it’s going to be 10 times better,” she said. “This program has been absolutely amazing for me.”

Funding for the training programs comes at a time that the Central Valley region is set to receive billions of dollars in public infrastructure spending, said Blake Konczal, executive director Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, in an interview with The Bee on Tuesday.

According to a report prepared by Applied Development Economics, Inc. for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, over the next ten years, the Central San Joaquin Valley and its surrounding counties are set to receive over $47 billion dollars in funding for everything from transportation, the High-Speed Rail, buildings, canals, broadband, and more. The study also estimates this funding led to over 41,000 jobs in construction labor, engineering an design in 2021 alone. According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County construction laborers was $55,052. “With all this construction happening in our Valley, if we do not prepare our neighbors to access these jobs,” said Konczal, “workers will be imported from other parts of the state or other parts of the country to do this work.” “The opportunity is there,” he said.



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