Women in Trades – Resources for Women Looking to Enter the Skilled Trades
Gone are the days when only bulky men in dirty work boots filled positions in the trades. Although women still only make up 3% of this crew in the U.S, things are changing. The infrastructure plan that went through Congress last November is poised to provide many jobs in “the trades” like carpentry, plumbing, or electrical. Based on federal benchmarks, a high percentage of these positions will be assigned to women. There has never been a better time for women to consider a career in the trades.
The first edition of the New Mexico Women in Trades Summit kicked off on March 18th. A half-day professional development event designed to connect and inspire women who have dedicated their careers to trades-based work and invite women in our community to learn more about the opportunities.
The program featured: industry leaders, panel discussions, and focused Q & A with tradeswomen and industry employers.
Osceola Energy Solar CFO Galina Kofchock has been in the Trade industry for 13 years. She was invited to share her experience and engage women in discussions about what it means to start a career in the trades.
Overview of the topics covered during the discussion:
- An unconventional Path to the Trades
- Compensation and Benefits in the Solar Industry
- Starter Toolbox
- Jobs in the Trades
- Workers’ Benefits for the Solar industry
- Challenges Women Might Cace on the Field.
- Balancing Family and Work
An Unconventional Path to the Trades
Galina graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Arizona. She was working in marketing when she met her husband Adam Harper, founder and CEO of OE Solar, in the early 2000s; “We met when he was about to start a contracting business. Working in the field sounded awful, and I was happy to keep working behind my desk. ”
While building their house together, Galina listened to Adam’s stories and found a new passion for working with her hands. After a year, she grew tired of sitting in front of the computer and soon quit her job to follow Adam’s dream of having a contracting company.
“We opened OE Solar in 2009, and we have been in business for 13 years. At first, it was just the two of us. In those first years, I gained a lot of experience working in the field: crawling under houses, pulling wire, figuring out how to install breaker panels, being on the roof installing solar panels, and everything else that the job required “. She continued: “And as we grew and decided to hire more people, I moved to the back office and learned how to do payrolls, ensuring we stayed compliant with employment laws. Now I handle financial planning and propose strategic directions, and I make sure our employees are happy and have the tools necessary to get their job done.”
One woman asked if she had ever dreamed of becoming an electrician.
“I’ve never dreamed of becoming an electrician, but I love what we do now and that we are helping the planet become a greener space again.”
As of 2022, OE solar has narrowed its focus to only commercial and government projects and stopped accepting residential projects. “We believe that we can make a bigger impact in society by focusing on commercial and PPP ( Private-public partnerships).”
Compensation and Benefits in the Solar Industry
The wages in the electrical and solar trades are high; Most employees start around $20/h, as long as they have tools, are dependable, and pass a background check. If you have the electrical licensing, the EE-98J, pay increases to $35/h and higher.
A good starter set will include:
- Tape measure.
- A screwdriver and bits.
- Hex wrenches – also known as Allen wrenches.
- Needle-nose pliers.
- Socket set
Jobs in the Trades
“If you don’t LOVE assembling Ikea furniture, then you probably won’t like being in the field,” said Galina to a crowd of women that burst into laughter . “However,” she added, “there are a lot of other tasks and jobs that you can do from the office. Engineering, for example, is another trade that pays very high, no matter what industry you are in, but also project management, planning, and HR; everyone needs that.”
Workers’ Benefits for the Solar industry
Solar falls under the union IBEW, A union of 750,000 members; the IBEW is the largest organization of electrical workers in North America.”
The construction industry has unique risks. Employers generally offer medical insurance but their disability, life, vacation, leave, and retirement offerings are below the national average.
“I worked in the field, so I understand the risks associated with these professions,” said Galina. “At OE Solar, we are proud to offer medical insurance, paid holiday, and 401k (after one year of employment). We want to attract and retain top-quality employees, and we use this plan as a differentiator to position OE Solar as the top place to work.”
Challenges Women Might Face on the Field.
One of the discussion topics was about specific challenges women might encounter working in the field.
Working in the trades can — quite word-for-word — be a backbreaking business. But not everyone in the industry faces the same difficulties. Those in the field endure their share of physical burdens while their office teammates face mental hurdles.
Many of the most-common challenges — long hours, dirt, and weather — don’t discriminate based on gender; some are unique to the women in the industry: “PC culture hasn’t reached the field yet: men and women are brazen, make crude jokes and curse a lot. That’s the truth for most of the construction work”
“As a woman will often run into two types of individuals in the field: the first type doesn’t give you any special treatments, even if you actually need help, they won’t offer it to you. The other type wants to help you with everything. Just ask for help when you need it and communicate that you can handle it yourself when you don’t need it,” said Galina.
Balancing family and work
Galina is a mom of a two-year-old son and a CFO. “I love working, and I love being a mom. I’m so grateful to daycare because they allow me to do both without too much stress. I devote my energies to my son when I’m at home, and I focus on OE Solar when I’m at work. “