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    Since 2007, the Ohio Workforce Coalition has been bringing together leaders from education and training institutions, economic and workforce development organizations, business and industry, labor, and human service providers. The Coalition promotes public policies that build the skills of adult workers, meet employer skill needs, and strengthen the workforce system to ensure opportunity and prosperity for Ohio families.

To Close the Gap for Women in the Workforce, Get Them Better Jobs (Part 1)

NNSP logo NNSP Fieldnotes Masthead
February 9, 2011

To Close the Gap for Women in the Workforce,
Get Them Better Jobs
by Jim Torrens, Insight Center for Community Economic Development / NNSP

(This issue of FieldNotes is Part 1 of a three-part series.)

In 2000, Josephine Rhymes, who directs the Tri-County Workforce Alliance in Clarksdale, MS, was looking for ways to improve the lives of women in her area. Data from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security had revealed many woman-headed households in the area; she knew that these women needed good jobs in order to be economically secure.

Choosing construction over healthcare

At first, Josephine thought to connect these women with jobs in healthcare, a growing sector said to pay good wages. After receiving a planning grant from the Foundation for the Mid-South, she began contacting local hospitals. To her surprise, she found that many available jobs, such as CNA or data entry clerk, actually paid little more than minimum wage – not enough for these women to support themselves and their families.

Where were the jobs that would pay self-sufficiency wages? One day, driving home, Josephine noticed women working out on the highway, and it gave her an idea: what about preparing women for construction jobs? Casinos were coming to her area, and new housing developments. These construction projects would need workers – and would pay them well.

Carpentry for women

Josephine began to explore the idea of a carpentry program for women. Many of those she initially talked to were skeptical whether women would be interested, so Josephine decided to ask the women themselves. With help from researchers at Mississippi State, she surveyed 100 local women receiving TANF. She asked them, “Would you do this work?” The answer, overwhelmingly, was yes.

That’s how and why Josephine launched the highly-successful Carpentry for Women program, which provides construction training and wrap-around services such as transportation and childcare to unemployed and underemployed women in Coahoma County. The program has trained and placed over 100 women in jobs paying between $11 and $15 an hour. Some graduates have helped build the area’s electrical plant and casinos. Others have started their own businesses; still others have helped to build or remodel their own homes.


Increasing access for women to good jobs

The story of Tri-County Workforce Alliance’s Carpentry for Women is a great example of how sector initiatives can make a difference for women in the workforce by increasing access to good jobs.

Sector initiatives use data to drive selection of target industries and occupations, develop deep understanding of and connections with an industry over an extended period, leverage the resources of multiple partners to meet employer and worker needs, and create lasting, structural change in industry practices, public policy, and the workforce development system. As such, they are ideally suited for addressing disparities in employment by gender.

In our next FieldNotes, we’ll look at what labor market data tells us about the gap for women in the workforce, and in last installment of the series, we’ll look at some implications for sector initiatives.

What’s your story?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your version of Josephine’s story.

How have you identified your region’s need for quality employment opportunities for women? How have you chosen your sector of focus? How have you persuaded those skeptical of non-traditional employment? And what have been the results?

E-mail me your story, and I’ll include it in Part 2 of this series.

Note: For more information about Tri-County Workforce Alliance and other dynamic organizations working with Mississippians to make ends meet, see Building Economic Stability for Mississippi Families (2010), a report produced by the Insight Center.

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