Women Trained for Post-Hurricane Construction Jobs
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Once you have a vehicle you may want to drive it south, if you're looking for work. On Wednesdays we take a look at the workplace and today we're going to go to Mississippi, which has plenty of workplaces and not enough workers to put in them.
Two and a half years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Gulf Coast is still rebuilding and there are plenty of construction jobs to be had. The problem is there are not enough qualified construction workers. The state has a new program to train low income women to fill some of those jobs.
And we have more this morning from NPR's Jeff Brady.
JEFF BRADY: The women in construction training program starts each day in a classroom at a community college between Gulfport and Biloxi, but within a few hours students are in the shop next door with instructor Paul Strunk(ph).
Mr. PAUL STRUNK (Instructor): And turns on right here.
(Soundbite of saw)
Mr. STRUNK: It doesn't have dust collection on this one.
BRADY: Strunk watches as women in hard hats and goggles learn how to slice through two-by-fours.
(Soundbite of saw)
BRADY: There are still more than 8,000 Mississippi families in temporary housing, and just about everywhere you look along the Gulf there's construction. Companies can't find enough skilled workers, even though unemployment is relatively high - about 5.5 percent in the three hurricane-affected counties.
Carissa MacLaine(ph) directs the training program. She says these classes will give unemployed women the skills they need to land those jobs.
Ms. CARISSA MACLAINE: The idea really behind it is to create careers in which women can earn self-sufficiency wages.
BRADY: Student Kishma Odom(ph) says she was looking for a way to get back into school and boost her income.
Ms. KISHMA ODOM: My original career was childcare, but they don't make as much. So I got into the construction program.
BRADY: Fellow student Michelle Moore says in construction even apprentices make good money.
Ms. MICHELLE MOORE: They say men start off, depending on their experience and depending on what they do - like carpet and plumbing or something like that - they start anywhere from $13-15. So I'm looking to get in the men's league. I want to make that kind of money.
BRADY: Money from foundations keeps the seven-week full-time classes free. Students get $1,200 to help cover child care and transportation. This is only the second class, so MacLaine says the program is evolving.
Ms. MACLAINE: You know, like the first class I didn't have any sort of attendance policy, because I just figured everybody would want to show up all the time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
And then the second class I realized maybe that's not going to work out as much.
BRADY: MacLaine says four people graduated from the first class. One got a job with a local construction company. Two more are studying to become electricians, and the fourth is still looking for a job.
The current class has 15 students. MacLaine hopes to graduate about 80 women a year. The program got a boost when the Department of Labor listed it as a source for federal contractors looking for minority and female workers.
Students wrap up the day in a gym. MacLaine says the women need to be in shape before getting out to a worksite. Mondays it's weightlifting and cardio machines. On Tuesdays it's yoga.
Ms. MACLAINE: We did a lot of like the tree poses and stuff like that to learn balance. But that's going to be really important, you know, when they're carrying, you know, a load of lumber, you know, two by fours on their shoulders or something like that.
BRADY: MacLaine says the Mississippi training also includes financial planning and advice on how to develop skills to overcome challenges. The next class will graduate at the beginning of June.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.