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Exposing Women to New Career Options

Hairstylist Jackeline Aguilera operates a power screwdriver as she learns how to hang a door in a classroom at CASA de Maryland, a non-profit organization that operates vocational training and employment placement programs in the Washington, D.C., area,

While women have made big strides in many career fields that were once dominated by men - from law to medicine to the physically-demanding work of police and the military - construction work still is largely considered "a man's job." A non-profit organization in the Washington, D.C., area, however, is training women for the construction trades in an effort to build self-esteem and better-paying careers.

Jackeline Aguilera is a hairstylist. But instead of scissors on this Saturday morning, she is operating a power screwdriver. She is learning to mount a door in a basement classroom.

"In the beginning, it was difficult," said Aguilera. "We studied maybe for one day. We fixed the door. Next Saturday we have a test on how to put on things and how to do a door." She is in construction work training with several other women.

"As a hairstylist, hmm, well, no no, no, I don't make enough money," said Aguilera. "But I do make money for a living. Pay bills, pay the basic things, house rent, food."

Mercedes Rodriguez, a Peruvian immigrant, cleans houses. With her limited English, Rodriguez explains why she wants to acquire, as she puts it, "man's job" skills.

"Because it is more money," said Rodriguez. "Now there is a little business in cleaning, Clean offices, clean houses."

CASA de Maryland, a non-profit organization that operates vocational training and employment placement programs in the Washington area, sponsors the training course. Tona Cravioto is the senior manager for vocational training.

"The purpose of this training is to prepare women to have access to high-paying jobs in construction," said Cravioto. "Our statistic shows there is a huge difference between the traditional jobs for women and construction jobs. For example, you can get cleaning jobs for $8 per hour versus the minimum for a construction job is $13 an hour."

Over the nine-week course, participants learn the basics of electrical, carpentry, flooring, plumbing, drywall and tile work. Janaina Rocha, who has worked in the construction field for 10 years, is an instructor.

"I have heard from ladies, that they just like, feel intimidated by the guys, but right now I know what to do, I have been taught, I got all the tools, and I will not feel intimidated anymore," said Rocha. "I will show them what I can do."

The Women's Economic Security Campaign, an advocacy group for low-income women, points out in a recent report that 99 percent of roofers are men earning an average wage of $16.17 per hour, while 98 percent of preschool teachers are women earning $11.48 per hour. The report suggests it makes sound economic sense for low-income women to begin looking for a way into the construction business.

"Also we believe that construction training is a career path," said Cravioto. "So you can just start at an entry level. But you have a career to follow. You have a way to go up to $25 an hour, or even more. All depends on what you do and how much training you get."

CASA de Maryland insists that women participants agree to try jobs they may have shied away from in the past, because they considered them to be "men's work."

"We have a very clear policy, gender neutral policy in which the jobs are not attached to any stereotype, male or female," said Cravioto. "If there is a female worker on the list as the next one to go, and there is coming up a construction job, or landscaping job, or moving job and she is capable to do it, she is going to take it. That is our policy."

The participants say they are not afraid of taking on traditional men's work. And they are confident the skills they are acquiring will help them build a better foundation for their lives.