When DMPS held a Skilled Trades Academy last summer as a sneak preview of the Skilled Trades Alliance curriculum in development at Central Campus, organizers took note of the fact that roughly a quarter of the participants were females curious about careers traditionally pursued by males.
Since there aren’t enough men to get all of the jobs done that need doing these days, this summer seemed like a good time for the Construction Camp for Girls hosted by Central Campus and offered in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Education.
Morning sessions at Central Campus include guest speakers who raise awareness of the abundant opportunities available in the metro Des Moines job market.
Afternoon fieldtrips include visits to carpentry, electrical, plumbing and masonry union sites for tours, apprenticeship briefings and hands-on activities.
Jeanette Thomas is an Education Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education’s Division of Community Colleges & Workforce Preparation. Her focus is recruiting women into nontraditional career fields, and she thought a partnership with DMPS and the local trade unions made sense. The Home Builders Association, Ace Mentor Program of Central Iowa, National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and Turner Construction are also sponsoring the camp, which is free for participants.
“The district has the perfect facilities to host this camp,” she said. “We’re very pleased with the turnout and certainly hope to continue this.”
On Tuesday, 25 of the 33 high school students who signed up for the camp spent the morning at Central Campus in front of computer screens, taking practice exams of the sort required for National Career Readiness Certification.
“These are portable credentials,” said Kristie Zeransky from Iowa Workforce Development. “You can take them with you anywhere in the country, but we hope you will choose to stay here and use them in Iowa.”
Besides actual instruction in construction, girls experience a general raising of consciousness about the realities of skilled trades careers. Myths like the one that they’re fallback options for kids who can’t cut it in college are smashed by facts like the acute need for well-trained problem-solvers who want to earn six figure incomes.
After lunch they were off to the Des Moines Electrical Apprenticeship Training Center in Urbandale where they toured a new facility equipped to handle the numbers of recruits the industry needs.
“Our old site was 10,000 square feet,” said instructor Derek Ingle, who was on track to become a physics teacher until discovering that electronics offered a more lucrative jolt. “Here we have 35,000.”
Students got tastes of everything from Ethernet cabling to conduit bending to circuitry wiring. When Ingle demonstrated some principles of motor controls in one of the labs, one student exclaimed, “This stuff is like magic!”
“Well, we try to take the mystery out of it,” said Ingle.
Jordan Neer is a senior-to-be at Lincoln with courses like AP Calculus and AP Art already on her transcript and she’s enrolled in Central Campus’s Civil Engineering & Architecture program for next year.
“I’m glad I decided to sign up for this (camp),” she said in between practice exams Tuesday morning. “I wanted to learn more about all of the different aspects of design and construction. Yesterday we had a panel discussion with women who work in these fields. Some of them own their own businesses and it was interesting to hear about their experience and get their advice.”
This camp is unprecedented, but women stepping into a breach in the skilled trades is not. Rosie the Riveter was a cultural icon during WWII, a symbol of the hardworking women who filled in for men who were overseas fighting the war with munitions the women supplied. Some Rosies probably worked for Solar Aircraft when that company owned the building at 1800 Grand that later became Tech High and, eventually, Central Campus.
Now their descendants are busy there learning how to meet another national need.