Program to provide construction education for disadvantaged young women

The YWCA in Birmingham, Ala., is starting a program in January that will train 15 economically disadvantaged young women in construction in an effort to move them into well-paying jobs.

Participants in the six-month, five-days-a-week program will spend half of each day in the classroom and the other half getting hands-on experience at construction sites. Working with Habitat for Humanity, the women will build a house during the program.

“They’ll be doing a little bit of everything,” Jennifer Holyer, education specialist for the YWCA, said of the skills the women will learn.

A construction trainer will teach topics including roofing, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and flooring.

Applicants to the “If I Had a Hammer” program must be economically disadvantaged 16- to 21-year-olds who fit at least one of these descriptions: a young mother; a high school dropout; has an academic skill level below the ninth grade or a disability; or has been in the foster care or court systems.

The women will be paid $5.50 per hour for their work in the field, and will also receive free childcare and low-cost health benefits. The program will include free General Educational Development or college preparation classes and courses in life skills.

Holyer said the YWCA chose construction because it offers higher pay than traditional women’s fields like childcare and cosmetology. Jeff Masters, president of the Alabama chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, told the Birmingham News the women who graduate from the program will help contractors in their struggle to find qualified workers.

“The women participating in that program will have no problem finding jobs,” Masters said. “There are positions for women in construction. Many of our jobs require more brains than brawn.”

The YWCA will provide graduates of the program with job placement or continuing education. Participants are guaranteed job interviews with contractors such as BE&K and B. L. Harbert International, who partnered with the YWCA.

“The real point is to get these women going down a career path,” Holyer said.

The program will begin Jan. 6 and applications are due Dec. 31. For more information about the program, call the YWCA at (205) 322-9922.