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Vermont Works For Women Program ‘Helps Participants Break Into Male-Dominated Industries’

Published Thursday, September 2, 2021
by Alison Novak/
Vermont Works For Women Program ‘Helps Participants Break Into Male-Dominated Industries’

(SOUTH BURLINGTON, VERMONT) - On a Saturday morning in late July, seven adult students gathered in a South Burlington garage for a lesson on bending conduit. 

Wearing steel-toed boots, work pants and bright-orange Vermont Works for Women T-shirts, the group encircled Instructor Danielle Bombardier, an experienced Electrician, as she demonstrated the process.  Conduit, Bombardier explained, is just a fancy name for pipe. "But we call it conduit, not pipe," she said matter-of-factly, prompting several laughs.

Gripping a long tool with a metal hook at its end, Bombardier bent the metal into a 90-degree angle, then used a hacksaw to cut it and a metal-working tool called a reamer to smooth out a sharp edge.

Her fluid work prompted several exclamations of "Whoa!" and "Cool!" from the students.

"We love tools!," one said enthusiastically, eliciting a few more chuckles.

Members of the group then dispersed, each grabbing their own piece of conduit and a set of tools to try it themselves.

The students were several weeks into Trailblazers, a program that aims to give Women and Gender-Non-Conforming Individuals hands-on experience in construction, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and solar installation - industries that have been historically dominated by Men.

Vermont Women make up only 3% of the workforce in these sorts of jobs, according to a 2016 report from Change the Story VT, an initiative to improve Women's economic status.

And High School Technical Centers, which prepare young people for careers in the Trades, currently average less than 12% female enrollment, with some as low as 6%.

With its Trailblazers Program, Vermont Works for Women - a non-profit dedicated to helping Women and Girls pursue work that leads to economic independence - is trying to boost Female representation in the Trades.

During the 10-week program, participants learn to use power tools and complete small construction projects.

The most recent graduates built a chicken coop and an outdoor play kitchen for a local preschool.

Classroom lessons, taught by Women who are veterans in the Trades, cover topics such as construction math, blueprint reading and material handling.

Students also undergo 10 hours of U.S. Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) training, which is recommended for entry-level Construction Workers.

Trailblazers was established in 2019 and initially funded through a federal Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Grant.

That support has ended, but Vermont Works for Women continues to fund the program - and make it free for all who attend - through a combination of private philanthropy and financial support from the Vermont Department of Labor and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation.

To date, 68 students have graduated from the program, which costs roughly $30,000 per session.

And the program is growing.

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