Brightline Advocates More Jobs for Women; Expansion of Solar Access

Early on April 11, the sound of swinging hammers rang out from the Bay Area's first all-women green construction training class. Women Build is a unique program created by Rising Sun Energy Center that prepares low-income women for long-term career pathways in construction. Programs like Women Build are essential to addressing the terrible nationwide gender gap in construction--2.6% in construction and extraction occupations, a number that has scarcely changed in the last thirty years. According to the National Women's Law Center and other equity advocates, this disparity exists for a number of reasons: recruitment efforts being targeted towards men, discrimination and harassment at training programs and in the field, and lack of female mentorship due to the current dearth of female construction workers.

The Bay Area is taking concrete steps to increase the number of women in the construction industry. Rising Sun's Women Build program provides the necessary training in hand-on construction in addition to life skills workshops led by women construction workers. Women Build participants graduate with OSHA 10 and First Aid/CPR certification and the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum certificate. They also receive networking opportunities and attend workshops led by women construction workers on topics like how to succeed in a historically male-dominated field. In the words of Rising Sun's Director of Adult Programs Elena Foshay, "the Women Build program is an exciting opportunity to increase the number of women in building trades apprenticeships." Women Build also creates a strong support network for women entering the construction industry through partnerships with Tradeswomen, Inc., the Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, Alameda County Social Services, the City of Berkeley, the West Oakland Job Resource Center, and the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council.

On the policy side, job placement strategies at both the state and local level are working to increase opportunities for women. In 2016, state workforce policies and funding streams now prioritize pre-apprenticeship programs targeting women. For example, California's Proposition 39 funds pre-apprenticeship programs that train women for jobs in construction. Brightline also has recently supported AB 2288, introduced by Assemblymember Autumn Burke, ensuring the California Workforce Development Board can push more outreach and retention programs for women in the building and construction trades.

Solar Rises as New Markets Open Up

A robust pipeline of workers is needed given the growing construction markets in California. In San Francisco alone, new housing construction has finally increased to rates unseen since the 1960s. Moreover, thanks to initiatives like San Francisco's Better Roofs Ordinance introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener, that pipeline should include construction workers trained for solar installations. Previously, new construction in San Francisco had to be "solar ready," meaning that the roofs were suitable for future solar installations. The ordinance makes San Francisco the first major city in the U.S. to require solar installations on new construction, helping San Francisco to meet its 100% renewable energy goal and creating new solar jobs in the process. As more cities follow San Francisco's lead in requiring solar installations on new buildings, now is the perfect opportunity to create a statewide solar workforce strategy that will integrate community hiring, increased opportunities for women, and good-paying jobs.

San Francisco already has a strong workforce strategy in place for the construction industry. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development's CityBuild program trains San Francisco residents to enter a career in construction through a pre-apprenticeship training program and at least five direct entry agreements with the building trades. Asian Neighborhood Design's Employment Training Center (ETC) also recruits from disadvantaged communities and transforms the lives

"Construction has long been a male-dominated industry;" noted Dilini Lankachandra, Brightline's counsel, "really targeting training opportunities at women will ensure that they get share of those well paying jobs." As a program designer collaborating with other community-based service providers, Brightline is working to bring a diverse influx of youth into the construction industry though San Francisco's Bridge Initiative. 

Melissa Brewster of Luminalt, a solar installation company based in San Francisco added, "a lot of women don't realize that there are jobs for them in the construction industry, but graduating from a pre-apprenticeship program opened a lot of doors for me and led me to a career that I've now held for 6 years."