Depending on whom you ask and where they live, the history of women in the building trades tells a different story. Women — like our Industry Icon Mary Coffey, Duro Dyne’s Wendy Hinden and our Local 28 cover stars — are generational proof of a sheet metal industry in transition. Grow up middle-class in the borough of Little Silver, New Jersey, as I did and you saw women transitioning to whatever career paths they wanted. Yet, for me, I never knew that a career in the trades industry could be one of them.
Most people in our community by the shore worked in New York City. An hour train ride to and from work is what I knew about the typical workday, and I did not know anyone in our neighborhood who worked in the building trades.
After high school, everyone was going to college so I went to college, (See how that works?), and the vocational/trade programs at our school were never an option for me. My first real exposure to the trade industry did not come until after college when I started working as publisher for the now defunct, Welding Magazine. In a bid to get my hands dirty and really get a feel for the welding trade, I enrolled in a weeklong welding class at one of the local schools. No experience. No problem.
As you might expect, I was completely awful, and I never learned how to knock my hood down or light a torch. The two pieces of metal I did manage to weld, I keep as a reminder that I am better off being a publisher over a pipefitter. But what I did learn in taking the class is the real skill, dedication and commitment people have to work as a tradesperson.
Over many years and many magazines later, seeing their stories put to paper is still what I love most about publishing a magazine like SNIPS. My kids now know that there are many career paths beyond college and the building trades will always have a need for skilled hands.
Which, to me, is even more proof that the stories we tell in our pages matter; the stories you tell through the makeup of your employees and your leadership matter. Because when it comes to recruiting the next generation of workers, seeing really is believing.
Whether it be new technology, a new generation or another gender, visibility is the most powerful tool we have for people to see their future in the skilled trades industry. People like SMACNA’s first-ever woman president Angie Simon and events like ENR magazine’s annual Groundbreaking Women in Construction conference (May 14-15, 2020) all play a crucial role in increasing visibility for women in the trades.
Now more than ever, women are stepping into new career fields to support their families. More than simply learning new skills, they are leading operations.
Whether it be in education or the workplace, women are breaking through the glass ceiling. When you work in the building trades, you can build your own ceilings.
This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of SNIPS magazine.