Women thriving in RichmondBUILD construction training program

Ten of 22 students set to graduate from the RichmondBUILD construction training program this Friday are women.

Pile-driving is not just a man’s game.

“To tell you the truth, there are more women in our pile-driver classes than in any one of the other occupations we teach,” said Mark Fuchs, executive director of the Carpenters Training Committee for Northern California.

And thanks to the RichmondBUILD Academy, more are on the way.

On Friday, the academy providing free career-training in construction to low-income residents is set to graduate its 40th cohort since launching in 2007.

The program is also set to celebrate a major milestone: nearly half of the cohort set to graduate — 10 of 22 students — are women.

In August, the female trainees applied for the 12-week program at a career fair in Fairfield.  Alongside their male counterparts, they survived a challenging program that trains in multiple certifications, such as construction, first aid and CPR, OSHA 10, confined spaces, traffic and more.

Richmond residents may have seen the students lugging sandbags, 6×6 blocks or quarter-inch siding in and around the RichmondBUILD training facility at 360 27th St.

When they’re not building in the warehouse or working on their physical fitness, students are learning math and other lessons in a classroom at the facility.

“We want to overly prepare them for their first day of work,” Lucero said.

And prepared they will be.

“Folks that come out of programs like RichmondBUILD have a 90 percent completion rate, because they know the expectation coming in,” Fuchs said.

Better yet? Partnerships with various trade groups like the Carpenters Training Committee for Northern California have led to high job placement for graduates.

That means high pay — with starting wages at $29.04 per hour.

“The apprenticeship is a four-year span, and over those four years there are eight levels,” Fuchs said. “As you progress through the program [with on-the-job training and focused learning sessions], around every six months you get a pay increase until you get up to your journeyman skill, which now is $50.50 an hour.”

The apprenticeship program also counts for 45 credit hours toward a college associate’s degree. Five more classes and apprentices can achieve the two-year degree, Fuchs said.

Fuchs is encouraged to see an increasing number of women in the RichmondBUILD program. In the carpenters’ trade, women make up roughly 3.5 percent of the workforce.

“We’re trying really hard to move the needle on women participation,” Fuchs said. “It’s a win- win partnership. Not only are we making a difference in the lives of these folks and their families and the community, it’s helping us with our skilled workforce demands.”

Training underserved residents in high-paid careers has a “multiplying effect” in communities, Fuchs added.

“When you bring good money back into the community, you are helping local restaurants and shops; you’re benefiting your community,” he said.

Marivic Costales is among the 10 women set to graduate Friday. She’s not only going to use her new skills in a lucrative career, but also for home improvement projects.

“I’m going to build a shed in my backyard,” she said.

Lucero warns participants: “Construction is not for the faint of heart.”

“If you are thin-skinned and get rattled easily, you might want to do something else,” he said. “But if you can stick it out, work your way up in the apprenticeship program and become a journeyman or a journeywoman, you’ll have a nice life.”

That said, Costales says the program is a “no judgment” zone.

“You can come here not knowing a thing and you leave with a lot of knowledge,” said Amaya White, whose eyes are set on a career in pile driving after graduating Friday.

“Go pile drivers!” she said.