A recently released report says women make up almost half the U-S workforce, but less than 3 percent of the construction industry. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, a program in Biloxi is giving women the skills to build a path towards a better-paying career.
Iris Brown smoothly cuts a 2-by-6 in a shaded pavilion that's home to the Women in Construction program at Moore Community House. She’ll graduate from the eight-week class tomorrow, and she’s hoping it will lead to a job in construction.
She'd never built anything before she started the class, and when she finished her first project – a toolbox with sides made of hearts for her daughter – she was pleased.
"It was surprising because I thought of it off the top of my head," she says. "I didn't draw the plan or anything. So when I built it, I was like, wow, I couldn't believe I did that. It turned out great."
The Women in Construction program began in 2008 as a way to offer women a path to the higher-paying jobs in construction and trade. Since then, it’s graduated 200 students. Julie Kuklinski is the program’s director.
"Majority of our women come from the food industry, service industry, retail - jobs that pay minimum wage," she says. "And generally our students have children, and so that just does not make ends meet, not even a little bit. So giving them the job training to increase their earning power is what catapults them out of a very difficult economic situation and gives them some security."
Felicia Herbert is putting the finishing touches on a wooden toolbox. She says the new construction skills she’s learned have been empowering. She found out about the program through a flyer in the unemployment office. She wants to find a job welding once she get some additional training.
"I've worked in quite a few construction places and noticed there's really not too many women out there," Herbert says. "I think this is a great place for women to learn so they can get into the field. I see all the guys making the big bucks, and why can't the women?"
The program is offered four times a year. The Women in Construction program says about 75 percent of its graduates are currently employed.
A report by the Mississippi Economic Policy Center earlier this year noted 49 percent of Mississippi’s low-income families are headed by women, and the top four jobs for single mothers are home health aides, cashiers, housekeepers and waitresses.