Breaking Molds and Building Skill: Generations of Young Women Preparing for the Skilled Trades Industry

By Victoria Williams
From Generations Magazine

From a young age, females have been and continue to be told what they can and cannot do based on preconceived “gender roles” that fall in line with what is feminine and what is masculine. From this young age, we continue to put ourselves into these predetermined boxes, which ultimately frame our outlook on life, including ourselves and what we imagine for our careers ahead of us. However, what has happened over the course of time is women are empowering themselves to look past these ideas that females are not capable of doing a “man’s job,” ultimately leading them into an industry of much success and fulfillment: the skilled trades industry. Women in this industry have begun working alongside the men who have held long-standing positions in this sector and are held to the same standard across the line, showing women everywhere that anything is possible.

Many young women in the region are now preparing themselves for a possible fulfilling and rewarding career path in the skilled trades industry. Natalie Jones, a senior at Hollidaysburg Area High School, was inspired by her father to enroll in welding classes at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center (GACTC). “I started welding with my dad, we would weld on our vehicles and do some other projects,” Natalie explained. “It’s something that we’ve always done as father and daughter and I’ve learned so much from him, but now I’m learning even more at GACTC. One day my dad looked at me and said, ‘I think you need to enroll for welding classes, you’re very good at welding and you enjoy doing it’ so I took his advice and that was the best decision I could have ever made.”

Parents can be one of (if not the biggest) influencers in a young student’s life; however, what the parent sees best for their child may not be what the child is experiencing or wanting. Alyssa Luciano, a junior at Tyrone Area High School, always knew she wanted to be a mechanic, but that isn’t what she thought her parents wanted for her. “I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was afraid they would be disappointed in me by going down the ‘vocational’ route. I was telling them I wanted to be a lawyer, but I knew deep down in the heart that’s not what I wanted to do,” shared Alyssa. “Once I got into high school and researched it, I realized I had to tell them and they supported me completely. Now, I am enrolled in courses for auto and diesel mechanics and I plan on taking what I learn at GACTC and taking it into the military,” she said. “It took me a while to gather the courage to tell my parents because it’s ‘not what girls are supposed to be doing’ but I decided to just go for it, and I’m so glad I did.”

For some, finding out that their true passion can match their career choice can be a long road. Many people, not only women, can go through many educational or career transformations before finding the perfect career or industry for them. Taylor Steele, a graduate of Northern Bedford High School, spent her time after high school attending universities and colleges before finding her true passion: construction. “I was eight months pregnant, and of course you can’t do much, so I was watching a lot of HGTV,” Taylor laughed. “And it dawned on me, ‘I could do that!’” Taylor then began taking side jobs from a friend who is a general contractor: ripping up floors, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, refinishing cabinets, and more! “We ended up remodeling almost an entire house, my friend and I,” explained Taylor. “That really got me thinking that I could really enjoy this type of work, more so than some of the things that I’ve done in the past.” Being independent and an empowered woman is what Taylor enjoys most about working in construction and learning more every day. “In the past, women weren’t allowed to do what we’re allowed to do today. I feel honored that I am able to work in something that I enjoy so much without restriction, and I enjoy the independence as well.”

Feeling fulfilled and successful by seeing your work’s completion is something that motivates employees and companies around the world, so it’s no surprise that those who work in skilled trades are highly motivated individuals who love to see the finished product. Melissa Weaver, a sophomore at Altoona Area High School, enrolled in the Masonry program at GACTC, knows how fulfilling it can be to see the finished product. “It feels awesome to be able to build something with your own two hands and say ‘I did that!’” exclaimed Melissa. “My favorite thing to do is to work with concrete, because if you get the measurements right and the entire process goes smoothly, the final product looks so awesome!” Melissa, who is the only one in her family to be interested in a trade, is proud to be the first girl in the industry. “Being the only girl is empowering to me. There are some setbacks, like being built differently than men and not necessarily being as strong, but you have to be able to work through the pain and it is all so worth it.”

Overall, the statement “girls can do anything” runs true with many girls and women today. Today, interest, passion, and determination inspire ambitious women across the world. Gone are the days of exclusivity and settling for careers that just don’t fit our personalities, drive, and motivation. Not only are women breaking down the boxes they were put in for many years, but there are new attitudes and viewpoints amongst trade careers. “People have underestimated the trades for a long time,” shared Alyssa. “Women, and even more men, are going into the skilled trades industry and making decent salaries and doing the things they love to do. It’s no longer looked down upon and the job market is really opening up for even more opportunity.”

This job market growth and perseverance of women already in the field spark excitement and empowerment in women everywhere. “Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean that we can’t help out with a ‘guy’s job’,” explained Natalie. “If we’re interested in it and we’re determined, there’s nothing that’s going to stop us from doing what we want to do.”

The GACTC has been long considered the best kept secret in the region in regards to training on the high school and post-secondary level. Julie Patosky, Continue Education Coordinator at GACTC, believes that there hasn’t been a better time for women to be entering into the skilled trades. “This is the perfect opportunity for women to enter a skilled trades industry,” she explained. “These girls and women who are training to work side-by-side with men and other women in the skilled industries are going to be truly setting the pay rate and created a precedent for future women in these industries.” With GACTC offering classes in automotive and diesel; automotive technology; carpentry and construction; cabinet making and finishing carpentry; collision repair and refinishing; electro mechanical engineering technology; masonry; outdoor power equipment; precision machining; and welding, the opportunities are truly endless.

With demand ever increasing in these industries, women should be encouraged now more than ever to follow their passions and dreams and seize the moment. However, there is still more work to be done amongst educators, administrators and other staff assisting young students with their career goals and opportunities. “It’s very important for us to ensure that we are not pre-defining a student’s path,” Julie explained. “I’ve heard many counselors, educators and administrators say things like ‘you’re university material’ or ‘you’re trade school material’ and instead we need to allow them to make their own decisions, not put them in boxes, and give them the resources and opportunities they need to succeed and follow their own dream.”

The students at GACTC receive industry-standard teaching from educators that are directly out of the industry that they are teaching. “The instructors at GACTC are industry-trained, so they know what the students are going to experience when they go into the workforce,” Nanette Anslinger, the Work Based Learning Coordinator at GACTC, said. “In my position, one of my goals here is to have the students go on industry tours to see for themselves what kind of environments, demographics, and experiences each industry may have. Recently we visited a logistics company and our students saw a woman on a forklift moving palettes very efficiently,” Nanette shared. “It just proved to our students, especially our female students, that yes, there are successful women in these industries that can work just as well as their male counterparts. I’m hoping this will inspire them to keep going and follow their dreams.”

For general information about the programs that GACTC offers, please visit their website at www.gactc.edu.