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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Female apprentices wanted: Annual event exposes girls to trade career possibilities

The annual Pizza, Pop and Power Tools event designed to introduce eighth-grade girls to trade careers shifted this year and instead invited high school junior and senior girls to try their hand at everything from welding to heavy equipment operation.

“Our apprenticeship programs are having difficulty getting women interested in the construction trade,” said Kenna May, manager of apprenticeship at Spokane Community College. “We’re trying to get the ones making decisions in the next couple of years.”

Girls attending Tuesday’s event got to go hands on and run a chop saw, use a nail gun, operate a backhoe and other heavy equipment, weld, use a plasma cutter and operate a concrete drill. Over a pizza lunch the students heard from three women who work in various aspects of construction work.

“I’m hoping that will be impactful,” May said.

The annual event started small in 2003 and was relatively simple without the hands-on activities it boasts today. “We started with 17 girls that came and watched a video and had pizza,” May said. “It’s evolved since then.”

May said all the local apprenticeship programs help put the event on by doing everything from paying for lunch to providing people to show the girls how to complete various tasks.

“They’re very vested in putting this on,” she said. “We all work really well together.”

The entire event is designed to get girls to consider careers that have long been dominated by men. Among the adults at the event at the SCC Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center on Fancher Road was SCC president Kevin Brockbank.

“I make it every year,” he said. “It’s actually a thing that’s a fun day. We really do try hard to expose young people to the trades. This one is a little different because it’s focused on gender.”

Sometimes people don’t realize how well a job in the trades pays, he said. “We do want people to realize there are more options than a traditional college path,” he said.

East Valley High School senior Sierra Suddreth tried her hand at using heat to fuse two sections of plastic natural gas pipe together. She said she liked being able to try different things. “You definitely get to learn a lot,” she said.

Suddreth said she saw a flyer about the event and wanted to come. She’s taken wood shop and metal shop at school and likes to weld. She’s thought about the Job Corps but has new options to consider now.

“I’m not really into the college thing,” she said. “I don’t mind doing the hands-on.”

University High School junior Hailey Balo said she came because her construction class teacher invited her. She tried her hand at welding, which she had never done before.

“At first I was really scared, but then they were helping me,” she said.

She said she plans to be an architect and thought taking a construction class would help her learn things that will benefit her in that career. “I want to know what they have to go through to make a house,” she said.

Brian Walter, organizer for Sheet Metal Workers Local #55, was hovering outside the welding room ready to answer questions and recruit girls who might be interested in a career with the Sheet Metal Workers.

Young people don’t have to have experience to join an apprenticeship program, though taking shop classes does help, Walter said. People just need to have a high school diploma and a driver’s license in order to apply. Applicants have to go through an interview and take a reading and writing test before they are selected.

“Our industry is very driven in geometry, angles and numbers,” he said.

He was fully prepared to talk about the pay and benefits a trade worker gets. A first-year apprentice starts out at $18.56 an hour and will make $31.48 at the end of the five-year apprenticeship program. Apprentices also get full benefits, including health insurance and two pensions.

Now is an excellent time for people to consider a trade career, he said.

“Every trade is hurting for people,” he said.