Women represent half of the Mississippi workforce, but make up two-thirds of minimum wage earners. Add in the predominately women-focused duty of childcare, and the path to economic stability becomes even more challenging for those looking to create a better life for themselves and their families.
Moore Community House, nestled in East Biloxi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is working to change this situation. Through innovative programming, Moore Community House is transforming the lives and economic status of women through their Women in Construction (WinC) initiative, a program recently awarded a Hancock Whitney Opportunity Grant.
Forged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, WinC launched in 2008 as a way to provide support for women who wanted to pursue higher paying nontraditional careers.
Through in-class and hands-on lessons, Women in Construction (WinC) participants learn the foundational skills for trade careers.
“We wanted women to take advantage of the Hurricane Katrina recovery jobs available,” said Moore Community House Executive Director Carol Burnett, discussing the driving force behind the program’s development. “We did an initial survey to determine three things: if women were interested in gaining construction training; if local employers were interested in hiring woman; and if there were existing training programs along the coast that we could partner with or supplement. And before we even finished the survey, we had overwhelming evidence there was a need for this type of program.”
The Moore Community House team went to work laying the foundation for WinC, developing curriculum, onboarding teachers, and delivering on their mission of helping communities flourish by creating economic security for women.
Blueprint for Success
With a focus on curriculum that leads to nationally recognized credentials and training in essential skills for advanced manufacturing and skilled craft trades, WinC helps elevate women to higher-paying occupations. It’s not uncommon for these higher paying jobs to double or even triple a minimum wage earner’s pay.
WinC helps meet the industry's demand for a trained workforce and enables women to pursue careers in the trades and advanced manufacturing.
But WinC is more than just a training program. It takes a holistic approach to reducing barriers to workforce development and job placement by offering other supportive services such as transportation assistance, work-related tools and clothing, PPE and most notably, childcare assistance. WinC provides up to six months of childcare assistance for participants to complete training and begin the job search, helping relieve the financial stress that may come with beginning a new career.
“We always knew that female students with children needed childcare, but we didn’t have the opportunity to build it into the services we offer until we received a Strengthening Working Families grant from the Department of Labor in 2016,” said Burnett. The coupling of training and childcare services resulted in an increased likelihood that female participants with children completed the program. “We’ve be fortunate that through other grants and funding, we’ve been able to offer the childcare component since 2016.”
Funding through national, governmental and local sector grants like the Hancock Whitney Opportunity Grant are vital for Moore Community House’s continued impact. “The support that we get makes it possible for us to make the training and childcare aspect available to the moms who come to us without charging them a fee,” said Burnett.
Dreams under Construction
Every few months, a new cohort of females begins one of three various programs WinC offers, taking the first step toward a new future. The program’s signature course, General Industry Pre-Apprenticeship, runs for eight weeks and teaches participants foundational level skills that can apply to multiple trades such as electrical heavy equipment, welding and more. Through intense hands-on training, participants earn industry-recognized certifications that make them eligible for an array of higher-paying jobs or other career development pathways.
WinC's newest training cohort begins their pre-apprenticeship job training program.
Beyond the construction basics learned, the program works to build confidence through access to other training. “We’re teaching technical skills, but also take a holistic approach to success, whatever that means for that individual,” said WinC Program Director Ruth Mazara. “We’re doing soft skills along with providing resources in the community that they can take advantage of to build their lives, like resume and job interview training, financial management sessions and networking opportunities, an important component for females in construction.”
“It takes substantial support for a woman to be the only female on a jobsite, to be in an occupation where women make up only two percent of the workforce, and to face the challenges that come with that,” adds Burnett. “Our participants find great support from the network of classmates and graduates they have access to through our program.”
WinC also hosts an Advanced Leadership class for previous graduates of the Pre-Apprenticeship program to assist with continuing education along with a Women in Trade 101 that helps participants receive an industry-recognized certification in as little as two weeks.
Women at Work
In the 14 years since launch, WinC has graduated more than 800 women. The program is highly successful, with a completion rate of 78 percent and a job placement rate of 74 percent
Drawing inspiration from the iconic Rosie the Riveter, WinC graduates prove females can be successful in nontraditional occupations.
And the work is never done. In recent years, WinC has continued to innovate by offering bi-lingual courses to ensure participants aren’t excluded from this life-changing program, and by offering hybrid in-class and virtual courses to continue the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many of the graduates can attest, the WinC program not only builds strong futures for participants, but it build opportunities for their families and children. In turn, the success is a catalyst for stronger communities that thrive.