Zelda Saeli looked over the group of young women gathered at the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) and asked them a question:
“Who’s excited to be a construction worker?” She was greeted with a rousing cheer in response.
“Clearly one of the best ways to earn a living is in the construction trades,” said Saeli, who has had a long career in construction, herself, and currently works for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “This is your opportunity to get your training and build your life.”
Then she got down to the nuts and bolts of one of the things a young woman might want to know before entering a field more associated with male workers: sometimes safety equipment available at a job site won’t be tailored for women.
“One size fits all isn’t always the case,” she said. “And absolutely a bad fit is a safety issue.”
Saeli was just one of a group of seasoned workers – all women – sharing their experiences to help inspire and inform young women at the second annual Women in Construction Conference organized by YouthBuild San Joaquin for its students as well as young women from the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps.
This year the conference brought sixteen female students together for a day that included training and presentations from guest speakers – women in the field willing to share their expertise to help these young protégées thrive in the workplace.
“It is important for our female pre-apprentices to understand the challenges they may face in the construction industry,” said Sheilah Goulart, director of the SJCOE’s YouthBuild program. “Today’s conference provided a venue for tradeswomen to share strategies to address these issues.”
YouthBuild San Joaquin is an SJCOE program that gives students a second chance at success by teaching them a trade and helping to connect them to apprenticeships or good-paying jobs through partnerships with the labor and business communities. It is affiliated with the YouthBuild USA nonprofit organization and a direct-entry program for the carpenters and laborers unions.
Presentations came from tradeswomen working as carpenters, electricians, laborers, and painters. Field representatives from the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards, Tradeswomen Inc., San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and PGIM were also there as presenters.
They covered a wide range of topics, from sanitary issues to how to handle themselves in a sometimes male-dominated culture.
The speakers not only identified the issues, but told the young women exactly what to do in order to thrive in their chosen field.
“We need to be assertive as well as take care of our own needs,” said Susan Rodriguez, field representative for Carpenters Union Local 152. “Be self-sufficient, ladies. We’re self-sufficient now. We take care of our families. We take care of our neighborhoods. Let’s take care of ourselves,” she said. “And make some money.”
Teniqua Gusters, 21, was one of the YouthBuild San Joaquin students there to learn.
“I want to be in construction,” she said. And that means coming up against a point of view from some that women don’t belong in the career.
Hearing from these experienced women helps to push past that, Gusters said. “We need to hear this type of stuff to push us further,” she said. “It gives us better options for our future.”