A Mom’s Path to the Middle Class

Posted by Chad Aleshire - On May 13, 2015 (EST)

Originally posted on the USDOL Blog Page on May 10, 2015.   
URL: http://blog.dol.gov/2015/05/10/a-moms-path-to-the-middle-class/
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




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