Walmart Foundation grant gives Iowa women chance to try construction, with the goal of a job and higher pay

Staff Writer
Tri-County Times

Iowa Workforce Development, IowaWORKS and Hawkeye Community College are using a Walmart Foundation Grant in the amount of $75,000 to introduce low-income Iowa women to jobs in construction. According to the latest PROMISE JOBS Employment and Wage Report, construction is the second highest-paying industry for men engaged in the PROMISE JOBS program. However, a demographic breakdown, by gender, of individuals working in this occupation indicates that females represent only 2.3 percent of the workforce. Data also indicates this is an industry showing growth in projected openings and wages. Specifically for heavy equipment operators, the average hourly wage in Central Iowa is $23.48 per hour.

The grant covers the costs of bringing a specialized Hawkeye Community College construction equipment simulator/trailer, along with a general instructor and assistant, to each of Iowa’s 15 IowaWORKS offices in 2016. The trailer is at IowaWORKS Region 11 at 430 E. Grand Ave, July 11-15. The simulator is part of the Six Step Workshops to allow women in the PROMISE JOBS program the opportunity to learn about non-traditional construction jobs and experience hands-on construction equipment operation simulation.

The grant gives low-income women with families the opportunity to receive hands-on experience, labor market and general information on nontraditional occupations (NTOs) in Construction Trades, which will move them quickly into higher paying jobs, thus decreasing their need to access welfare supports and other human services programs.

IWD Director Beth Townsend praised the public/private partnership, and said this initiative is an important step toward addressing Iowa’s skills gap. “This is a great opportunity for women to learn about good paying, available jobs in the construction industry,” said Townsend. “We encourage interested women to try their hand at operating heavy machinery in a safe environment. This program is not only a gateway to increasing the number of women in the construction field, but also a pathway to a challenging, good paying and sustainable career for women.”

Iowans operating the construction equipment simulator learn the controls, gauges and equipment systems in a safe, in-cab environment with professional supervision. Instructors answer questions and provide different environments in which students may operate equipment. Some of the scenarios include: Backhoe, Forklift, Excavator, Wheel Loader and various lifts. This opportunity is open to the general public.