Black, Latina women work to become electricians as part of first all-female class for longtime trades training program

CHICAGO – On the first day of personal tuition in her electrician training, Maria Rocio Brito stayed with the instructor after class while the rest of her classmates left.

She had to understand which answers she misunderstood in the test. English is her second language, and although she is fluent, she “needs a little more work to fully understand it,” she said.

“I want to do this because I want to show my daughters and other Latinas that they too can stand up for themselves and that it is possible to get a good job in a male-dominated field,” said Brito.

The 43-year-old mother, who immigrated from Guerrero, Mexico, is one of 17 women, all women in color, selected as part of the first all-female cohort of a construction trade class co-sponsored by the HOOD and Associated Community Builders program Builders and Contractors Illinois.

The goal of the 12-week course in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood is to help women get started in the construction industry where there is virtually no wage gap, but which is dominated by white men, said Alicia Martin, president of ABC Illinois.

Women were hardest hit by job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the program offers them a new opportunity to “open doors to new prospects and potentially a new career in construction and crafts,” Martin said.

In Illinois, women with children were disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, with mothers losing nearly three times as many jobs as similar men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which was analyzed by the Illinois Policy Institute.

Fifty-year-old Christel Allen, who took her first face-to-face class with her 10-month-old grandson last Saturday, said the program was “a glimpse of hope and new beginnings” after a “year of pain and loss”.

The grandmother, who had to look after her grandson but didn’t want to miss the first day of class, is no stranger to the trade. Allen has a commercial driver’s license and certification for marking for construction, she said.

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“The pandemic has brought us back and this class will help me move forward,” Allen said.

Many people of color, especially women, cannot do jobs because they cannot afford schooling or certification and eligibility programs that guarantee a consistent, well-paid job, Martin said.

“We want to remove the barriers that lead many women, especially women of skin color, to believe that they cannot get a good job in this field,” said Martin.

For Brito, the language is the main obstacle, but “we will work together,” assured her instructor Tamiko Winn.

“Don’t worry, you will get this,” Winn said to Brito, suggesting that she read the current chapter in her manual with one of her daughters and then go back alone.

The two women smiled as Brito put down her books.

Brito has dedicated her life to caring for her three daughters. Two of them are now college educated, “thanks to so many victims,” ​​she said. “Now is the time for me to do this.”

Teaching the class “empowers” said Winn, an African American who stood up to the odds and started her career in the craft.

Of those who take classes with Brito, 16 are black women and Brito is the only Latina. Classes were scheduled to begin during Women’s History Month at New Beginnings Church High School, Chicago, 6620 S. King Drive.

“So this class is personal,” she said, “because women of color are often pushed aside as a double minority. We’re here to change that.”

The Community Builders Program was founded by ABC Illinois in 2017 to provide a guided path into the craft and promote the employability of people who are “often left behind,” Martin said.

Since 2016, ABC Illinois has been working with various community organizations to provide free training for people faced with barriers to employment, such as: B. Non-college graduates, youth at risk, non-English speakers, and ex-offenders.

More than 200,000 craftsmen are needed in Illinois, according to ABC Illinois.

“But there aren’t enough avenues to get to those positions,” added Martin.

Rev. Corey Brooks, founder of Project HOOD, said the program was an opportunity to hone and highlight the skills of blacks and Latinos to give them a chance for real progress.

Brooks, whose organization works to end violence and empower residents of South Sierre, Chicago, said the group decided to fund the first all-female cohort in full “because women have the skills to do the work to do in the trade, but often I just don’t have the opportunity to get into the industry. “

The current course offers women three industry-recognized credentials, including first level electrical work and a federal safety certification. Upon graduation, each woman will have access to mentors to help them find a job.

Mike Uremovich, president of Manhattan Mechanical Services in the southwest suburb of Manhattan, said he has hired 20 community builders program graduates in the past four years. The company offers newcomers a four-year apprenticeship program.

“We have a lot of people who can’t afford college but they want to work, know how to work, and are just looking for a way to do it,” said Uremovich.

“There is a stigma that women cannot work in construction, but there are more women in the industry and right now the need for workers is even greater,” he said.

Without Martin’s willingness to let her take part, Brito said, “I wouldn’t be part of the program.”

Brito had applied for other programs in the past but was often turned down due to her immigrant status and language barriers.

She is “eager to learn,” she said.

“I’m so grateful,” said Brito.

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