Most women don’t think of growing up and becoming carpenters, but I wish that they would. There’s an indescribable sense of accomplishment walking past a building and knowing that you helped to lay its foundation. As a commercial carpenter, I build things from scratch—important things, like hospitals, skyscrapers and universities. When I’m on a project, I’m in there every day, using power tools and measuring planks, corners and tile on the ground. I am a well-paid flooring expert—something I knew nothing about five-years ago.
Back then, I was working as a waitress, taking customers’ orders at a restaurant. It was a nice job, but it wasn’t a career. I was 18 and had just graduated high school when my mom called me during my beach vacation and told me that I couldn’t waitress forever. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I knew I liked doing odd projects around the home with my dad and that I really enjoyed a welding class my senior year. So, I decided to swap my apron for a tool belt on a whim.
I saw that the local carpenters’ union had a welding program, and I called to ask about it. The timing was perfect, and a few days later, I learned that I was approved for their pre-apprentice training program. It was aimed toward women and minorities as a way to introduce more people to the trades. For eight weeks I was taught the right way to swing a hammer and to safely use tools. I quickly found out that working outdoors wasn’t for me but, through the program, I discovered various specialties, and I instantly gravitated toward laying floors. I’d done this at my parents’ house and enjoyed it, and it was largely an indoor specialty.
The program I participated in has evolved. It is now co-ed, called the carpenters pre-apprenticeship program, and it’s open to anyone with an interest in carpentry in Edison, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C.
Once you complete the pre-apprenticeship, otherwise known as Carpenters Apprentice Ready Program (CARP), you’re eligible to apply to the Carpenters Apprenticeship Program. This next program is also free, and it is a four- or five-year commitment, depending on your location. It’s actually a really great program, too, because you get to work in the trades and build experience while you’re learning. Once you reach 600-work hours, you become eligible for health insurance. The starting salary for a one-year apprentice is about $20 per hour in New Jersey, where I’m from. That rate more than doubles by your fifth year.
It was a huge benefit to me to be part of such a strong class of women. Although construction has traditionally had the lowest female participation rate of any industry, at just under 11 percent, things are beginning to change, thanks to programs like these. During the pandemic, the construction industry has had the highest percentage growth in female employment compared to all other industries. I’m happy to say that I am now part of the steering committee for Sisters in the Brotherhood, an organization that helps women learn a trade and develop leadership skills. I’m also training to be a foreman. I like that I’m helping other women learn about the trades.
Carpentry isn’t for everyone, but I really like that I’ve found my calling and my community within this industry. I hope my story will inspire other women to pick up a hammer or a measuring tape and see where it takes them. I want them to know that there is a whole community of women here waiting to cheer them on.