Building Trades Sisters brings the trades, women together

Sheet metal journeyperson leads group aimed at recruiting, retaining tradeswomen

SAN DIEGO – When San Diego journeyperson Annet Del Rosario and Local 206 Business Manager Doug Tracy attended the Women Build Nations conference in October, there were no expectations. But as they sat side by side in presentation after presentation, the goal began clear for them both: take the information back to Southern California and inspire change.

“I like looking at sunsets. I like the moment when the sun hits the horizon. It’s that ‘ah!’ moment,” Del Rosario said. “Sitting next to him, I got to see Doug as he sees what I see every day. We were both in the same mindset. It was joyous.”

Del Rosario wanted to join a committee for women in the trades, but Tracy found there was no such organization — not only in Southern California, but in the entire state.

“She wanted to start something,” Tracy said. “There was no question. We would back her in whatever she wanted to do.”

Tracy reached out to fellow building trades business managers in the area, and the first meeting of Building Trades Sisters was held in November with 21 attendees who currently work on job sites in the area.

“The long-term goal is to have the numbers go from 25 to 125,” Del Rosario said. “We want to mentor so they can keep the next ones in line. We are a family, a sisterhood. If we need something we have someone to go to, not just in our trade but in all of the trades.”

Kimmy Martin, a second-year apprentice and mentee to Del Rosario, took the position as recording secretary of the group. As one of eight female apprentices at Local 206, one of 12 in the local as a whole, Martin felt her presence holds a special place.

As an apprentice she can look up to the journey people in the trade and help mentor new apprentices as they come in. Women, in particular, feel the pressure to succeed, but mentoring each other makes a stronger union, she said.

“It’s beneficial to walk in the footsteps of someone else. I can get other people’s experiences and use it to help me succeed. Having someone believe in you sometimes is enough to help you succeed,” she added. “It’s really awesome to see other women — even from outside my trade — and hear them talk about how they succeeded. To see two women foremen in Building Trade Sisters blew my mind.”

Outreach and education are items first on the list of goals for Building Trades Sisters. Many women don’t consider the building trades because they don’t know it exists as an option, Del Rosario said.

“I’ve had women tell me they didn’t think it was for them, but they got in and liked it,” she added. “I don’t want the women to only join because they heard about it from someone like their dad. I want them to come in because they had the information and chose the career.”

The male friend who introduced Martin to the trade also introduced her to Del Rosario. She knows Building Trades Sisters can work because her mentor relationship with Del Rosario was a success.

“I was super inspired by her drive. I didn’t know if I could do it or not. I was second-guessing myself, and I was doubting whether or not I could work in a ‘man’s job.’ I sort of tucked myself under her wing,” Martin said.

One of the first projects for Building Trades Sisters is a closet where women can donate gently used or new tools, clothing and boots for pre-apprentices and apprentices just starting out in the trade who haven’t had the means to purchase needed materials to successfully start their new career.

She recently met a pre-apprentice who couldn’t afford boots or a measuring tape as required by her employer to start. Del Rosario loaned the young woman boots and gave her one of her extra measuring tapes.

In addition to clothing, boots and a measuring tape, pre-apprentices and apprentices often need specialized tools for certain jobs that can often be expensive.

“It made me want to go through with the tools and clothing exchange, because it just happened to me,” Del Rosario said. “You don’t want them to spend their whole check on tools they’re not going to need all at once.”

Del Rosario serves as president of Building Trades Sisters. Currently attendees consist of electricians, plumbers and pipefitters, ironworkers, carpenters and teamsters.

“I came up in the trades when not a lot of women did the work,” Tracy said. “Listening to how many have to struggle to get to where they want to be was heartbreaking to me. I’m happy for them. They’re doing the right thing.”

More than 14,000 apprentices are registered at over 150 training facilities across the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), welding and industrial, architectural and ornamental, and service and testing, adjusting and balancing industry throughout the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, the ITI develops and produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum for members covering sheet metal trade work, visit their website or call 703-739-7200.

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