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ADOT giving women the skills needed to succeed in construction trades

MIAMI – Just a splinter of the construction industry workforce are women and the state's transportation department is working to improve those numbers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, men staff more than 90 percent of the industry's positions.  

Leaders in the Arizona Department of Transportation are working with community college leaders and contractors to integrate more women and minorities into their Construction Academy typically dominated by men. Academy courses offer an entree to a wide range of construction jobs, including welding, trucking, electrical work and building houses and roads. 

Patricia McKinley used the skills she learned at the construction academy to launch a Phoenix business, KHAVL Transport, in 2016 with just one truck. She now has four semi-tractor trailers in the trucking company, which she co-owns with her husband.

Women need to lean toward their ambitions, McKinley said.

“I think we put our own fear on ourselves, not knowing we can do it,” she said.

It was intimidating at first being the only women in her class, but she wanted to see it through, McKinley said.

“It showed me that there was a great need for promotion, encouraging other women to get moving forward, because we can do it,” she said.

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McKinley hopes to soon see more women behind the wheel of their own companies.

Corey Foster, who manages ADOT’S workforce development program, said bringing women and minorities into the construction academy is filling an industry need for skilled workers.

“A lot of the contractors are concerned that projects are increasing, opportunities are increasing in the Valley and Arizona, but the workforce does not have the skills that they need to go forth,” he said. “The academy kind of bridges the gap.”

Women also lack access and face discrimination in a male-dominated industry and have expressed frustrations to him over additional interviews and more vetting being required of them than their male counterparts, he said.

Iris Bost, who graduated from the program last year, started her own business teaching safety classes for ADOT at a Gila Community College facility in Miami.

When she first inquired about the program, she asked whether women were allowed to participate.

“As an instructor, I just try to remind my students that I’ve been in their seats, that I know how it is and that there is a way to further their education,” Bost said, “if they just give it a chance and take the time to do it.”

Gila Community College offers a hands-on experience to students participating in the program, honing such skills such as machinery work, wood building and welding.

“I got the building trades and skills that I need to be on the job,” Bost said.

Programs are tailored to people’s schedules, preferences and how much training they need. Sessions range from a week to 16 weeks and are offered in the evenings. Each student is able to choose specific courses, such as mathematics or blueprint reading, that correlate to the job they seek.

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Graduates receive certifications and all the equipment they need to be successful at their next job. That could be a hard hat or safety boots.

According More than 200 women have graduated from the program since it began in 2014. Those certifications often lead to higher pay, Foster said and 301 Native Americans who graduated the academy in the past year were placed in jobs.

McKinley of KHAVL Transport said the program is a building block for more women to be involved in construction.

“We live in these communities that we’re building up and reconstructing, so I want to see women in the communities that they’re building in, working in,” she said.

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Karisma Sandoval/Cronkite News

Iris Bost, a recent graduate of the construction academy, now teaches safety classes for ADOT at the Gila Community College branch in Miami.