Shamaiah Turner

I got my start in the union construction industry through the Building Pathways Pre-Apprenticeship Program in 2012.

Like many women entering a traditionally male-dominated field, I faced challenges and internal self-doubt. Building Pathways gave me not just technical skills but also the confidence and support system necessary to thrive in the construction industry. Without them, I would not have risen through the ranks of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17 to become the business development representative for the North East Regional Council of SMART.

We need to invest and expand workforce development programs and work with builders and developers to funnel more women and people of color into the trades.

Building Pathways’ work extends beyond individual success stories like mine. They are part of a larger movement to diversify the union construction workforce, fostering a more inclusive and equitable industry.

All industries benefit from embracing diversity. In union construction, it enriches our workplaces and enhances productivity and innovation. We must continue to help more women and people of color in this field. We need their input, and anyone who’s willing to work for it deserves the opportunity to secure a lifelong career in the trades.

Pre-apprenticeship programs play a vital role in bridging the gender gap in the trades. They offer women the opportunity to explore various construction trades, gain hands-on experience, and develop essential skills needed for successful careers. These programs serve as a stepping stone, empowering women to pursue apprenticeships and ultimately secure good union jobs with fair wages and benefits. Targeted efforts like this are why more than 10 percent of union construction apprentices in Massachusetts are women, one of the highest rates in the country.

Building a Stronger. More Resilient Industry

Massachusetts’ workforce participation rules, union contracts and project labor agreements do a lot to help ensure equitable workforce standards.

According to state guidelines, construction contracts should aim for at least 15.3 percent of hours of construction work be performed by minority workers and 6.9 percent by female workers.

But there’s still more work that needs to be done. Investing more in pre-apprenticeship programs and working with builders and contractors to hire more tradeswomen can help us meet the state’s requirements for workforce participation diversity.

Union construction has been a gateway to the middle class for many, and for a long time, people like me were shut out of these opportunities. Pre-apprenticeship training is a way to level the playing field and give more diverse candidates the tools they need to succeed. The knowledge they provide about different trades, the preparation of hard and soft skills, and the mentorship and support they offer are vital for breaking down systemic barriers for women and creating pathways to success.

The Greater Boston community should reaffirm its commitment to empowering women in the trades. Together, we can build a future where all individuals, regardless of gender, have equal opportunities to pursue fulfilling careers in construction. By investing in pre-apprenticeship programs and working with builders and contractors to promote diversity and inclusion, we can create lasting change and build a stronger, more resilient industry for generations to come.

Shamaiah Turner is the secretary for the SMART International Union Women’s Committee, a trustee on the SMART Recruitment and Retention Council, and the Business Development Representative for the North East Regional Council of SMART.

Empowering Women in Construction Through Pre-Apprenticeship Programs

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min