Gateway Technical College, located in southwest Wisconsin, serves the diverse urban and rural communities of Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth Counties. Established in 1911, Gateway became Wisconsin’s first vocational school and the nation’s first publicly funded technical college. With funding support from the American Association of Community Colleges ECCA initiative, Gateway serves both registered apprentices and approximately 40 youth apprentices. These apprenticeships are sponsored by both individual employers and employer associations of labor/management groups known as Joint Apprenticeship Committees.
Understanding the need for diversity and inclusion in today’s workforce, both the college and regional employers are committed to expanding the number of persons of color, underrepresented individuals, and women in apprenticeship programs. A focus on women in nontraditional occupations has both equity and economic implications, and for decades few women have rarely entered nontraditional employment areas such as construction and the trades. The Gateway leadership commitment to diversity and specifically to designing strategies that promote and enroll women apprentices in nontraditional business and industry sectors is exemplified in this quote from Dr. Bryan Albrecht, President and CEO of Gateway Technical College, “Our nation’s apprenticeship system is built upon equitable opportunities for all. Creating inclusive services that focus on access to women and diverse populations will strengthen the economy by closing the skills gap with a highly skilled workforce.”
Gateway’s registered apprenticeship programs in the construction and building trades are examples of apprenticeship areas where women are intentionally recruited and supported. In just the past few years, Gateway’s enrollment of female Construction Electrical apprentices has gone from zero to over 12%. Typical talking points used by Gateway in recruitment of women and diverse populations into apprenticeship programs include excellent job opportunities, good wages and benefits, high advancement potential, relatively short training times, and for some employers, Title IX compliance and/or a company commitment to workforce equity.
Gateway targets its recruiting efforts specifically for women apprentices in multiple ways. The college works closely with the Professional Women in the Trades organization to conduct recruitment events and to develop recruitment materials as well as Internet and social media posts that feature images of women in nontraditional jobs, labor market information (in-demand jobs), job benefits, and success stories. Gateway connects with high schools, nonprofit community groups and area churches for information distribution and in-person recruiting opportunities. The college is developing a pre-apprenticeship program which will be useful in identifying women who wish to become registered apprentices and seek employment in nontraditional employment areas. As prospective female apprentices show interest in a particular nontraditional trade program, the college uses one-on-one follow-up approaches through trained and knowledgeable staff to ensure the candidate has the information needed to make an informed decision.
When speaking with prospective apprentices, especially those seeking to go into a nontraditional trade, Gateway instructors have learned that it is important that students know what to expect from the trade as well as what the trade and the employer expect of them. Gateway faculty routinely provide this information for students and these conversations allow prospective apprentices to make a fully informed choice about the trade they are interested in while establishing familiarity with the program/instructor prior to enrollment. Gateway apprenticeship instructors play a big part in apprentice engagement. Apprentices often bring their on-the-job experiences, positive and negative alike, back to the classroom and to their instructors. As apprentices share this information, the college gains insights on program effectiveness and improvement and use college resources to support apprentices and their apprenticeship experience.
Gateway provides a faculty member coach for each apprentice in the program. The coach connects regularly with both the employer and the apprentice. Another responsibility of the coach will be to train mentors. To further support their apprenticeship sponsors, Gateway is expected to launch mentor training workshops in the fall of 2021. Gateway believes that mentors are invaluable to the apprentices as they will serve as a role model, monitor program progress, help resolve issues, and connect the apprentice to other resources as needed. Wisconsin requires each apprentice to complete an 8-hour training course that provides each apprentice with the skills and information needed to support them as they transition out of their apprenticeship and into a mentor, bringing their journey full circle.
Understanding the culture of the apprenticeship company of employment is another important strategy that is involved in both apprentice recruitment and support. Gateway faculty meet with employers to assess the climate of the company relative to their support and employee acceptance of women entering into a male-dominated occupational area. For some employers, the Gateway apprenticeship experience has been the catalyst for positive culture and attitudinal changes for the entire company. Throughout the apprenticeship process, Gateway faculty check in with women apprentices to identify and address any concerns the apprentice may have that make them uncomfortable or hesitant to continue. It is not uncommon for female apprentices to be somewhat unwilling to share culture and climate issues, but Gateway staff are skilled and trained to gain the confidence of the apprentice and to resolve these situations.
Encouraging women to consider apprenticeships in nontraditional careers can be very challenging. However, Gateway Technical College has seen growth and success in this equity arena through smart recruitment, employer relationship building, apprentice mentorship and support, and a strong college commitment to diversity and inclusion.