North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) presented its ninth annual Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in October, and seven Local 12 members, led by training center instructor Kim Garside, participated in the three-day conference. The largest gathering of union tradeswomen in the world, the event presented speakers and workshops that covered topics such as apprenticeship, recruitment, mentoring other women, mental and physical health, safety, getting involved in union leadership, balancing family and work, and financial planning.
“It’s like a pep rally for women in the trades,” is how Local 12 apprentice Kerri Reppucci described the event. “It was great for me to see so many women in the industry.”
Mirroring the rapid rise of women joining the ranks of Local 12 as well as construction trades in the region and across North America, the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference has been growing dramatically. Garside says that in the three years the she has been going to the event, it has nearly doubled in attendance from year to year. The 2019 conference had close to 4,000 women representing all of the union trades, including electrical workers, carpenters, and bricklayers, along with plumbers and gasfitters. The United Association (UA), Local 12’s parent organization, had 400 members alone from the U.S. and Canada.
Among the workshops Reppucci attended was one about preventing and addressing sexual harassment and another about understanding and protecting retirement benefits.
“It can be intimidating as a women to get into the trades,” the third-year apprentice says, adding that the information she was able to learn at the event was helpful. Reppucci notes that the camaraderie and solidarity she experienced at the conference was equally empowering.
Garside especially enjoyed a presentation about how local unions can build and nurture women’s committees. The instructor has chaired a Local 12 group comprised of women members for a few years and says that she was able to bring back some great ideas for the group.
Both of the women have seen the industry evolve firsthand. “It’s a different dynamic today,” says Garside, noting that women were few and far between when she began her career. “More support and resources are available for women today, which is a great thing.”
Reppucci, who began working as a CAD designer 12 years ago, recalls that she rarely saw women in the trades back then. “Now, it’s a different story,” she says. “Yes, it can be rough and taxing on your body. But women should not be afraid.”
The Tradeswomen Build Nations attendees had opportunities to break out and gather with other members of their trade. The UA presented a luncheon for its members. Garside says the organization has done a great job promoting the event and encouraging locals to send their members to the conference.
As evidenced by the growth and success of the conference, what was once a non-traditional career path for women is becoming more conventional. Does Reppucci have any advice for women considering getting into the industry? “Go for it!” she says. “If it’s for you, you’ll do really well.”