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The Construction Industry Wants to Hire More Women, but Child Care ‘Barriers’ Are Getting in the Way

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A woman wearing a construction uniform poses with a certificate in both hands as a person takes a picture with other people in construction uniforms stand behind her.
Tamarra Hayward receives a certificate of completion after a six-week pre-apprenticeship training program at the Carpenters Training Committee for Northern California in Pleasanton on March 30, 2023. The program is a state-supported apprenticeship program to get more women and nonbinary people into the male-dominated construction and building industry. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Tamarra Hayward, 36, is a single mother of three with two dead-end jobs.

At night, she works the graveyard shift at an Amazon warehouse in the Sacramento area, picking out merchandise people have ordered online and sending it off to be packed and delivered.

The job pays $19 per hour, which she said isn’t enough to make ends meet. So she delivers food for DoorDash on the side, and while she’s working, she relies on family members to look after her children.

“I’ve got someone different watching my kids every single day, and I’m struggling paycheck to paycheck right now,” she said.

When an aunt, who is a longtime carpenter, suggested she pursue a career in construction, Hayward jumped at the chance and signed up for a pre-apprenticeship — a boot camp-like program that teaches the basics of carpentry before a four-year apprenticeship.

A group of women wearing construction equipment survey a building area.
An all-female group gets ready to pack up for the day. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hayward is among a small but growing group of women California is trying to attract to the trades. The construction industry has historically been male-dominated, and the state is trying to get more women and nonbinary people into the pipeline by promoting state-regulated apprenticeships that will lead to better-paying jobs.

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The industry itself needs hundreds of thousands of skilled workers to replace older workers who are retiring, and to meet the rising demand for new construction.

But only 3.5% of people enrolled in construction apprenticeships are women, and access to child care is keeping many of them from joining the trades.

“If you talk to women in the industry, they will likely share the challenge of finding affordable and accessible child care as a significant barrier,” said Katie Hagen, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations, at a news conference in March announcing $25 million in grants to help cover the cost of child care for women starting their careers in construction.

Two women wearing construction uniforms hold hammers near wooden boards at a construction site.
Oshen Turman practices nailing techniques during the six-week training program. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Apprenticeships offer participants who don’t necessarily have a college degree a chance to earn money while they undergo training in various jobs. They’re a key part of the state’s strategy to develop a skilled workforce by offering apprenticeships to a half-million people by 2029.

Graduates from a construction apprenticeship program can expect to make $75,000 or more per year, said Hagen.

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“There aren’t very many jobs where you finish your training program and you can earn such a high wage,” she said.

Builders are trying to bolster the effort by supporting legislation that would invest in more child care.

Andrew Meredith, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, said construction workers often get to job sites before dawn, so they need child care that falls outside of normal working hours.

“Women are actually looking for programs that can take their children at 5 or 5:30 in the morning or, God forbid, even sometimes earlier than that,” he said.

A group of people wearing construction equipment hold a wooden structure as one person looks on while another works on a different wooden structure.
Participants of the pre-apprenticeship working to become carpenters. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Parents had a hard time finding flexible child care hours long before the pandemic hit. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of home-based family child care sites that typically offered care beyond the 9-to-5 schedule steadily declined by 30%, according to the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network.

According to Gemma DiMatteo, research director for the network, these small businesses often struggle to stay afloat financially, and would have taken a harder hit during the pandemic if they hadn’t received federal aid.

Hayward said she anticipates that she’ll be on multiple waitlists for child care for her 12-month-old daughter, but it’s a step up from not being able to afford child care at all.

For six grueling weeks, Hayward drove 90 miles each way from her home in Sacramento to the Nor Cal Carpenters Training facility in the East Bay city of Pleasanton to undergo training with 10 other women. They’d start by running 1.5 miles around the massive building while wearing heavy tool belts and then spend the rest of the day learning how to use tools and machinery safely.

After graduating from the pre-apprenticeship, Hayward will receive $10,000 in stipends from the Equal Representation in Construction Apprenticeship, or ERiCA, grant to help her get through the next phase of training.

Two women wearing construction uniforms hold hammers near wooden boards at a construction site.
Tamarra Hayward practices nailing techniques. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

As an apprentice, she’ll continue with classroom learning and be on call when a construction job comes up. The stipends are expected to cover the first two years of the apprenticeship, when starting pay ranges from $30 to $37 per hour, depending on the location of the job site. But as the program continues, workers will see their pay rise. By the fourth year, they could earn up to $47 to $54 per hour.

That means Hayward will make enough money to support her family with this one job — and child care will be subsidized.

“Two years of receiving a child care stipend will allow me to save two years of income that I would have taken away from my household for child care,” she said. “I’m also going to be able to save money to buy a house for my children.”

On the final day of the boot camp, Hayward said she woke up early, prepared bottles of milk for her baby, gave her a kiss and got in her car.

A group of people wearing construction uniforms pose holding certificates in a building.
Tamarra Hayward (kneeling in orange jacket) and Oshen Turman (second row, far right), alongside their classmates, pose for a portrait after receiving their certificates of completion. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“I just finished giving her the last of the breast milk that I made. But I remind myself the reason why I came to this program is so that I don’t have to continue the cycle of struggle,” she said.

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She said her kids and the promise of a better future motivate her to keep going.

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