BY ROBERT P. MADER Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
WASHINGTON — Young women and girls face widespread sex discrimination in high school vocational and technical education programs across the country, according to a report issued by the National Women’s Law Center. Females face pervasive sex segregation, sexual harassment in the classroom, discrimination in counseling and recruiting, and other gender-based bias, according to the report, which was heavily based on records of state departments of education in 12 states, representing all regions of the country.
The NWLC examined school records in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington.
As a result of the findings, NWLC in early June filed 12 Petitions for Compliance Review, one in each regional office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The petitions request Title IX investigations of – and demand remedies for – sex discrimination in vocational and technical education across the country.
The report states that most classes for cosmetology, child care and health aides are overwhelmingly females while classes for trades are overwhelmingly male. In Florida, 99% of the students in cosmetology are female, while 100% of the students taking plumbing are male, according to the NWLC.
The advocacy group focused on the lower earning potential in the traditionally female occupations. Cosmetologists, for example, earn a median hourly salary of $8.49 and child-care workers earn a median hourly salary of $7.43. In contrast, students in the predominantly male, higher-wage careers can earn median hourly salaries of almost $20 as plumbers, electricians or mechanical drafters, NWLC said.
The report also noted other discriminatory practices such as teachers who help male students get summer jobs but do not help female students.
Two people involved in plumbing apprenticeship programs, however, said the scarcity of women in trades was not for lack of trying.
“I’ve been involved with special efforts to get women involved in the trades for 15 years now and I’ve always encountered individuals who express concern about the problems women have getting into the industry, but I assure you from my exposure in Wisconsin that we go out of our way to bring women into the trades,” said Joan S. Braun, executive vice president of the Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association of Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin.
“There’s special pre-application preparation,” Braun continued. “The Y has done a phenomenal job in giving women background on the trades, getting women familiar with the tools. We have to address child-care issues and getting women physically fit to participate in training. We try to have peer groups available so if issues arise there’s someone to turn to.
“I am personally familiar with several women who have gone through trades and are extremely successful in one form or another.”
Bob Hahn, is an instructor at Somerset County Vocational Technical Schools in Bridgewater, N.J. He is a member of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association, chairman of the New Jersey PHCC’s Apprenticeship Committee and a national Vocational Industrial Clubs of America task force member.
“Overall the numbers are low but I can’t say it’s because people are not trying,” Hahn said. “I don’t know of any program that would not accept students of any gender.”
Hahn said he believes that many girls don’t like plumbing because it’s dirty and physically demanding. Plumbing also is a victim of the mindset that everyone should go to college and that only dropouts and “bad kids” go into the trades, he said.
One solution mentioned by both Braun and Hahn is to affiliate an apprenticeship-training program with a state college so that an apprentice ends up with a college degree.