Brooklyn, NY – “This is actually amazing to me,” — 4th-year Plumbers apprentice Nkosa Barrett says surveying the hive of activity going on inside the third floor of the Brooklyn STEAM Center. “No one ever taught me these things when I was this age.”
All around the industrial space girls 6- to 16-years-old enrolled in the Tools & Tiaras Summer Camp are learning the basics of electrical wiring or gleefully removing insulation, swapping a pair of cutters for wire strippers
“Jobs don’t have genders,” Barrett continues. “My grandmother never said this [toy] is for girls, this is [toy] for boys — but to be able to know that you can do electrical, you can do plumbing, you can do anything that a man can do — it’s such an amazing thing to lean at such a young age.”
Barrett is just one of the union tradeswomen — plumbers, carpenters electricians, stagehands and others — volunteering their time and expertise introducing Tools & Tiaras campers to careers in the Building Trades.
“For the tradeswomen, it’s a feeling of pride that we’re passing on traditions that somebody has taught us,” Local 1 Plumber and Tools & Tiaras founder Judaline Cassidy says. “The girls are learning that insulation for the wire is like putting on your clothes — the tradeswomen are finding really creative ways to teach them stuff they are going to use every day. I’m fasciated and I want to do more. I feel like with a little help we can get more girls, and even boys, inspired.”
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to double the number of women in apprenticeship programs by 2025. Presently, women represent less than 10 percent of workers in the Building Trades.
“You don’t have to be a secretary,” says Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 member Toni Campbell-James. “[This program] allows young girls to see themselves outside of just the typical work.”
Helping to increase the number of women in the Building Trades was one of the key reasons Campbell-James decided to enroll her six-year-old daughter Parker in the Tools & Tiaras Summer Camp.
“Usually, when you ask young girls what they want to be, they say lawyer or doctor; something where they see themselves dressed up — pretty careers. They don’t know the joys of getting on the train with your filthy outfit and having the whole seat to yourself. I think it broadens their horizons. It gives them a plethora of avenues they can go.”
Slots in this year’s Tools & Tiaras Summer Camp filled up quick and there is now a waiting list, although, at the time of this writing openings were still available for Week Two of the program being held August 26-30 at the Morris Plains Community Center in New Jersey.
“I wanted my daughter to learn a little bit about plumbing and electricity and carpentry because, usually, you don’t see workshops for girls,” Queens mom Mina Reynoso says. “I thought this [program] would be more interesting being hands on and learning about tools.”
This is, in fact, the second year that Reynoso’s 13-year-old daughter Samantha has participated in the Tools & Tiaras Summer Camp.
“She absolutely loves it and has a great time,” Reynoso says. “I hope that she will have the ability to look at other fields and not just focus on the fields that you hear about constantly — the big ones like being an attorney or a teacher. She will learn that there are a lot of different fields out there — and if she wants to learn more, I more than welcome her to do it.”
Non-Traditional Employment for Women [NEW] — the workforce development project that specializes in preparing women for Careers in the Building Trades — notes that women in the Building Trades earn two- to three-times more than women working in “traditional careers.” Salaries following the successful completion of apprenticeship training range between $40 to $50 an hour. NEW’s next Open House is on September 19, at 5:30 p.m.
Closing in on the final year of her own apprenticeship training, Barrett says she made the right decision to start a career in the Building Trades at 33-years-old— even though she, too, initially thought, “That’s a man’s job.”
“Although I started late, honestly it’s been the best decision I ever made,” the Tools & Tiaras mentor says. “Prior to this, I was a manager in retail. But I was stagnant; I wasn’t going any further. I chose plumbing because I wanted to do something where I was constantly using my brain, where I can learn something new every day.”
The success of the Tools & Tiaras Summer Camp has even surprised its founder.
“I know I love the Trades, I really didn’t realize how much little girls where going to fall in love with them,” Cassidy says. “Yesterday, we had girls crying because they didn’t get to finish the project they were working on before lunch —so, they just ate [quick] and went right back.”