Metro is promoting carpenter apprenticeship programs to increase the amount of women working on the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project.
By Jason Lewis
Metro has been an advocate for diversity in their hiring process for their construction projects. They have a project labor agreement with their mainline contractor, Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors, for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project that ensures certain demographics can obtain employment.
“It was something that Metro put in place to ensure that jobs were going locally, and to set some targets and some goals for our contractors as they go out and hire people to work on our projects,” said Anthony Crump, Metro Community & Construction Relations Manager.
This agreement has targets for hiring people from economically disadvantaged areas, disadvantaged workers (veterans, non-high school graduates, homeless, criminal history, chronic unemployment, foster care), apprentices, and women.
The target for female construction workers is 6.9 percent of the workforce. However, they are currently at 3.25 percent. To achieve their targeted goal, Metro has created the Women Build Metro Los Angeles program to train women in the field of construction. They have also promoted the My Brother’s Keeper and the Bridging Opportunities with Tradeswoman Skills (BOOTS) programs, which are administered by the Southwest Carpenters Training Center in Whittier.
LaJon James, who is the coordinator/compliance officer at PV Jobs, said that one reason why the target goal has not been met is that there are very few women who are applying for jobs in construction. PV Jobs works to place at-risk and disadvantaged youth, adults and veterans in career employment in construction and other industries. They handle the hiring for Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project.
“The BOOTS program, which is through the carpenter’s union, is strictly for women,” James said. “Women who want to get any type of experience or want to start off through the trade of construction can start off through this apprenticeship program. We’ve recently hired three women through this program.”
James said that there are jobs waiting for women who take advantage of these programs.
Whitney Winans, who is a 2nd period apprentice carpenter at Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors, is one of the women who went through one of the apprenticeship programs, and she’s now working as a carpenter on Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project. The Compton native has always had some level of interest in the profession.
“I’ve always done odd jobs that had something to do with carpentry,” she said. “I used to help my uncle as well with his home improvement carpentry. So I’ve always been interested in building, and creating things with my hands.”
Winans found out about the programs at the Southwest Carpenters Training Center. She took the My Brother’s Keeper course where she received hands-on training, and then she looked for work. She stopped by Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors’ booth at The Taste of Soul festival on Crenshaw Blvd., and shortly after she was hired to help build Metro’s platform stations on Crenshaw Blvd. She has been on the job since November, and her main task is continuing to learn the trade from the journeymen carpenters and foremen.
“I’m like the runner,” she said. “I go get the wood and help them with anything that they need. My job really is to pay attention and understand what they’re doing. So when it comes my time to be in their position, I can help somebody else.”
Before learning this profession, Winans had not used steel saws, scissor lifts, or different types of drills.
“That’s the one thing that overwhelmed me on my first month of the job,” she said. “You think it’s just hammer and nails. But there are so many different tools that you have to learn.”
The equipment and building materials can be heavy at times, but that has not been an issue for women on the job.
“The rule here is safety,” Winans said. “Safety is a big thing with Walsh/Shea. If there is something that’s too heavy, we ask for help. So there’s not much of a struggle with the heavy lifting. Because there’s always help.”
Even though certain aspects of the job were overwhelming in the beginning, that did not deter Winans from progressing through this profession.
“I’m not intimidated by much,” she said. “So I look at it as a challenge. Getting the pat on the back lets me know that I’m doing my job, I’m doing it well, and people are noticing it.”
Winans is also not intimidated by working with mostly males.
“Just keep thick skin out here because you know that you’re in a male-dominated career,” she said. “So you have to put on your big-boy pants.”
The schedule that Winans has may be tougher to deal with than working with mostly men. She describes it as “long and hard,” but she has found a couple of things to like about it.
“I like working the mornings,” she said. “We work from 6:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., unless there’s overtime. Getting off early afternoon, I pretty much have the rest of my day to myself. The only hard part is getting out of bed in the morning. But once I’m in the car, I’m like, ‘Let’s go and get the money.’”
Before this new career, Winans did a lot of odd jobs to get by. Now she has the goal of becoming a supervisor, foreman, or project manager, and she is not too worried about being unemployed.
“There’s always going to be infrastructure,” she said. “There’s always going to be somebody who wants to build something. There’s always going to be a need for construction.”
Besides steady employment, Winans appreciates the reactions that she gets from people driving down Crenshaw Blvd., honking their horns at her.
“The public has a lot of respect for what I’m doing,” she said. “People are always smiling and cheering me on. Encouraging me to keep going with this job. It kind of fuels me, and sometimes nearly brings a tear to my eye. Because you never really think that a stranger really cares that much about what you’re doing.”
Winans long-term goal is to go back to school and study architecture, and then start her own business. She believes that the skills that she’s learning and experiences that she’s having will help her as an architect.
For more information about a career in construction, contact Women Build Metro Los Angeles at www.metro.net/about/wbmla; PV Jobs at (323) 432-3955 or www.pvjobs.org; Southwest Carpenters Training Center at (562) 699-0419 or www.swcarpenters.org; or Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors at www.walsh-shea-corridorconstructors.com.