Kim Stern knew she was in the minority when she decided to work in a skilled trade 23 years ago.
Still, the Mecca woman, a pipefitter at DE-CAL Inc. in Youngstown, saw her opportunity and took it. Stern, 51, said she's never regretted her decision to pursue what many people consider a nontraditional job for women.
"When you consider the benefits, the opportunity to make a good living with a good wage, it really is something I think more women should consider," she said.
Kim Stern, 51, talks about her pipefitting job in Youngstown
''It is physically demanding, but overall it's been good. There are a lot of opportunities for women out there,'' she said. ''They just have to look for them and look at what would works best for them."
As job demands in manufacturing and skilled labor grow, an increasing number of women are looking to pursue positions previously dominated by men, said Kathleen Wildman, development and community outreach manager for Hard Hatted Women, a nonprofit organization focusing on providing women job opportunities in trade and technical fields.
Many area women are finding they can make more money in nontraditional fields and are capable of performing the job duties required, Wildman said.
Kim Stern, 51, of Mecca, discusses her choice to pursue a career as a pipefitter, a job considered a nontraditional field for women. She has been working as a pipefitter for 23 years, most recently at DE-CAL Inc. in Younsgtown.
Photo by Virginia Shank
"There are many opportunities open to women that I think maybe in the past, many haven't considered," she said. "But more and more we see women looking for opportunities to learn a skill, to earn the higher-wages many of these jobs provide."
HHW, based in Cleveland, works with women throughout the Mahoning Valley to provide training and job search resources. The U.S. Department of Labor has allocated $200,000 to Hard Hatted Women for its Tradeswomen TOOLS model in Cuyahoga, Lorain and Trumbull Counties, including its WISE Pathways program.
The organization is teaming with Eastern Gateway Community College and YWCA Warren to bring WISE Pathways to local women. The 45-hour career exploration and readiness workshop highlights careers in energy, skilled manufacturing and construction. Classes are being planned for this spring at the YWCA in Warren.
Wildman said the program is designed to help women pursue trade and technical careers in growing fields while also meeting the needs of local and regional employers for a skilled work force. Program participants can learn what opportunities exist, what they need to do to be strong candidates and "what it's really like to be a woman in a nontraditional career. The program features panel presentations by employers, training providers and role models - women already working successfully in these fields,'' she said.
Stern is one of those role models.
"A lot has changed for women over the years in the job market," Stern said. "You really didn't see many women doing these jobs when I started out. You see more now and I think the field is growing. The important thing is for women to realize what's available to them."
Marty Loney, training director for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396, said the union has held several recruitment efforts to encourage women to apply for apprenticeship programs. The union's current application drive, which started last week and continues through Friday, has attracted more women this year than in the past, Loney said.
Union representatives frequently visit technical and trade schools, various educational institutions and job fair and recruitment events designed for women, he said.
"Men and women both need training, they need jobs," he said. "These jobs aren't for everyone, but they are out there and they can be a good fit regardless of whether you're a man or a woman.
''We need trained, qualified workers to get the job done. We encourage women, right along with men, to take advantage of the training opportunities we have.
''I think a lot of the stereotypes are breaking down pretty quickly,'' Loney said. ''These days, it's not about whether you're a man or a woman. More and more it's about whether you have the skill to do the job."