This National Apprenticeship Week, we applaud efforts to improve access to employment through apprenticeship programs, but we feel employers must aim higher to ensure that women benefit from these programs to the same degree as men do.
Teresa Caponio was older than 50 when she entered a construction trade apprenticeship program. She had 16 years of construction experience, and her resume was decorated with certificates in CPR, workplace safety, plate welding, and work zone and traffic control safety. Due to her wealth of training and experience, she was eligible for several credit hours when she entered the program. Despite that, she did not receive a single job for more than two years — without explanation. She finally reached out to her own network to find jobs.
It appears that younger, less experienced men had been given the job opportunities she should have received through her apprenticeship. Five years into the program, Ms. Caponio had nowhere near the earning potential and increased opportunities she believes she should have been afforded. She received only enough on-the-job and classroom training to secure a single year of pension benefits.
Apprenticeship programs are work-based learning opportunities for people with diverse life experiences and financial means to “earn and learn.” Apprenticeships encompass a wide range of jobs, including construction workers, child care development specialists, fire medics, electricians, and dental hygienists. According to the Department of Labor, on average, the starting wage for individuals in these programs is $15 per hour. Those who complete a program and become fully proficient workers can expect to earn around $50,000 per year — or nearly $25 per hour.
Apprenticeships give people who cannot — or choose not to — obtain a college degree the opportunity to learn a specific technical trade that increases their earning potential. This opportunity is invaluable for many Americans who otherwise may not be exposed to a lucrative career path. But women’s ability to access the promise of apprenticeships is impeded when employers or unions discriminate against female tradeswomen in the ways Ms. Caponio experienced.
The National Taskforce on Tradeswomen’s Issues has found that women make up 70 percent of low-wage workers in apprenticeships in traditionally female trades but only 3 percent of those in higher-earning trades, such as construction. For that 3 percent, the wage gap hits exponentially harder.
Apprenticeships help many to make great strides toward meaningful employment, but we must be careful to not leave women behind.