Originally posted on
the USDOL Blog Page on May 10, 2015.
Written by Eric Seleznow, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration
The words mom, veteran and professional welder aren’t words that often go together, except when you’re talking about Kelli Gilliam, successful mother of four and the first woman to be general foreman for hull trades at Newport News Shipbuilding. As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, Kelli’s story, and countless others are a testament to the importance that small opportunities can transform lives.
Kelli’s path to a shipbuilding apprenticeship is all about resilience and beating the odds. She went from living in a shelter with her two young children to transforming her life through an apprenticeship – which offered her an opportunity to earn wages while she learned new skills.
Prior to her apprenticeship, Kelli also served her country in the U.S. Navy Reserves, and was encouraged by her dad to be a skilled welder. She wanted to pursue an apprenticeship because it enabled her to be paid while she finished her associate’s degree in business administration, and continue her passion for welding. Today, Kelli is a professional welder, a mom, and an apprenticeship graduate. She’s transformed her life, punched her ticket to the middle class, and has solid career opportunities ahead.
There are thousands of women, just like Kelli, that are taking care of their families, while pursuing a good job and an education through an apprenticeship. Moms like Martine, a mother of three girls, who was struggling to make ends meet, started a medical apprenticeship in New Hampshire and now has plans to become a nurse. Or Nancy, a single mom from Santa Barbara, California, who now earns more than $29 an hour as an electrical apprentice.
Apprenticeships offer a pathway to well-paying, middle class jobs, while also expanding opportunities to more Americans – including women and minorities. That’s why President Obama has been committed to doubling the number of apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $100 million investment to grow apprenticeship across the country and help companies start their own programs. The President’s FY16 budget proposes even more funding to support women in apprenticeships through a new, expanded grant program.
Right now we are working together with companies across the country to double and diversify the number of apprenticeships we have today. If your plumber or electrician was an apprentice, why not the pharmacy tech that fills your prescription, or the IT network manager at your office?
With the headwinds of the improving economy, and efforts to reach more companies to start their own program, we’re already moving the needle, adding nearly 50,000 apprenticeships over the last year. Today, more companies are making new commitments to expand, so more workers can gain the skills employers need without going into college loan debt.
We need more apprenticeships, so moms like Kelli can continue to pave a pathway to the middle class and beyond.
Kelli (back left) and her family
It’s been a continued period of excitement in the Apprenticeship community recently, highlighted by Apprenticeship’s important role in the April 24, White House Upskilling Summit. The event provided an opportunity to engage employers and business leaders from a wide range of industries and encourage them to take steps to help realize the full potential of America’s workforce by empowering workers with the education and training they need to develop new skills and earn higher wages. Over 100 of the nation’s leading employers participated, including approximately 20 newly-announced ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS.
These industry and employment leaders gathered to discuss strategies for advancing efforts to help workers of all ages earn a shot at better, higher-paying jobs. Each of the participant organizations are making commitments to support and expand the Upskilling Initiative across the U.S., with Apprenticeship front and center as a leading strategy to do so.
The President and Vice President have highlighted the importance of this effort and stressed the need for industry and employer leaders to work together from employers and labor leaders, philanthropists and tech innovators, educators and workforce leaders...all committed to unlocking the potential of every American worker. To learn more about the Upskilling Initiative, visit the White House’s Upskill website at www.whitehouse.gov/upskill, and read the Upskill Fact Sheet.
During the event,
Vice President Biden spoke about how critical the Upskilling effort
is and how it will open up opportunity for workers to earn higher wages, and to
spur business growth and help employers increase productivity.
Watch Vice President Biden’s Upskilling Summit Remarks Here
Apprenticeship was at the center of the Upskilling Summit, with 20 newly-announced ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS participating. The goal of the ApprenticeshipUSA LEADERS initiative is to engage businesses across all industries to discuss the value of apprenticeships and to encourage greater adoption of this workforce training strategy. ApprenticeshipUSA Leaders are a great resource in promoting this effort. Their commitment to the nation’s Upskilling initiative was clearly evident in the leadership they provided during the Summit.
The President and the Secretary of Labor have made it clear that Apprenticeship plays a key role in the ongoing Upskilling effort. Apprenticeship represents the gold standard in training to prepare workers for successful careers. For more information on the ApprenticeshipUSA initiative, and more detail on how to become an ApprenticeshipUSA LEADER, we encourage you to read and download the following Fact Sheets.
Nov. 1 - 7 is National Apprenticeship Week. It’s an opportunity for the national apprenticeship community to tell the story of registered apprenticeship – a proven strategy for recruiting, training, and retaining a highly-skilled and diverse workforce. In 2014, President Obama challenged the U.S. Department of Labor to double and diversify the number of registered apprentices in the United States over the next 5 years. Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. is proud to be part of that effort.
In fact, we’ve been working to help women access apprenticeships in the construction industry for more than 25 years. Through our Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, hundreds of women have obtained family-supporting, high-skill careers in building, construction, mechanical, electrical, utility and highway trades. Prior to leading Oregon Tradeswomen, I was the first woman in Oregon to become licensed as an elevator mechanic. I also serve on the Federal Advisory Committee on Registered Apprenticeship where thousands of women and girls from diverse backgrounds have gained information about careers and apprenticeship opportunities in historically male-dominated industries.
As part of National Apprenticeship Week, we were excited to host a “Women in Apprenticeship Day” on Nov. 4th to celebrate Oregon’s success in introducing women to apprenticeship. Industry employers, public officials, and our pre-apprenticeship students convened at the Sheet Metal Institute training center for a press event and a tour of the state of the art facility. We also hosted a field trip for Oregon Tradeswomen’s current class of pre-apprenticeship students to engage in hands-on activities to learn about the trade. Our partnership with the Sheet Metal Institute has resulted in more than 8 percent female apprentices in the program, which is nearly three times the national average for women in construction trades apprenticeships! We were also thrilled that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown showed her support by proclaiming Nov. 4 as Women in Apprenticeship Day.
Lisa Davis represents one of our many success stories. She is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16, as well as an instructor at the Sheet Metal Institute. She started her apprenticeship there after a few dissatisfying years in medical school led her to Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship program. In college, Lisa worked as a mechanic in a bowling alley. She had always enjoyed fixing bowling pinsetters and arcade games, and decided to make a career of it after learning about the benefits of apprenticeship. Sheet metal apprenticeship was a natural fit for her. Lisa loves the variety of her trade and she’s committed to her craft and her success as a trades professional: “This is about your life, your career, your future and your family’s future. You have to be willing to fight for it because you believe in it and you believe in yourself.”
The Women’s Bureau recognizes that there are many women out there like Lisa, women with the desire and aptitude to pursue careers in fields where they have traditionally been under represented and who, when equipped with the right resources and information, will make good on those aspirations, to the benefit of employers and families alike. That’s why the Women’s Bureau has launched a new portal called “Women Build, Protect and Move America.” Currently, the site focuses on careers in construction, law enforcement and transportation careers. Specifically, the website will provide a repository of information for women job-seekers, service providers, and others, including occupational data and statistics; relevant organizations, associations and advocacy groups; promising practices and success stories; and support service resource and referral information.
Oregon Tradeswomen is honored to celebrate the first National Apprenticeship Week with the Women’s Bureau, and we’re excited to use this opportunity to echo the sentiments of the president, Secretary Perez and countless others that apprenticeship is for everyone who is interested in a quality, high-skill career, men and women alike.
Connie Ashbrook is the executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.