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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Give the Trades a Try

Women often say they want a career that makes a difference.

Traditional choices that fulfill this imperative include teaching,

social work, and nursing.

Dianne McKay, chair of the state’s council on gender parity

in labor and education, suggests that welding, sheetrocking, bricklaying,

and, yes, even plumbing could fill the bill, as well. And in many

cases pay better — often a lot better.

"What could be more fulfilling than helping New York City rebuild

from the worst tragedy?" McKay asks. Getting New Jersey’s school

buildings back in top shape is fulfilling too. But not enough women

are taking advantage of opportunities in the building trades, she


On Wednesday, October 23, McKay speaks on a panel addressing "Women

in the Trades: Problems and Success Stories" at the New Jersey

Women’s Conference, which begins at 8 a.m. at the East Brunswick Hilton

and is sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. McKay’s talk

occurs on the second day of the two-day event. Cost for the second

day, $100. Call 609-989-7888 or click on the event icon at the New

Jersey Chamber’s site (

McKay studied American Civilization at Douglass College (Class of

1969) and received an advanced degree in the subject from the University

of Pennsylvania. She has spent her career on gender parity policy

issues, and is chair of the New Jersey Advisory Commission on the

Status of Women. She is also a principal in BHMR (609-261-0255), a

firm that does training and consulting on gender equity issues.

"There is tremendous opportunity for high wage, high skill jobs,"

says McKay. Women choosing a career in a building trade can easily

make two to three times the salary she would earn in a "pink collar"

job, she says. Furthermore, the trades offer a career ladder into

management or an entrepreneurial step into a small business.

Nevertheless women are not looking to the trades for a solid career,

McKay says, offering these reasons.

Counseling. High school counselors tend to recommend four-year

college as the optimum, sometimes only, next move for all high school

students, regardless of interests and aptitudes. Often they neglect

to tell youngsters — and particularly female youngsters —

about opportunities in the trades.

Negative view of vo-techs. Vocational schools often are

seen as the "ugly stepsister," says McKay, making it difficult

for students to feel good about looking into programs that lead to

trade careers.

Perception. Parents and members of the community often

do not present the trades as an option, viewing as dead-end, second-class


Choosing to pursue a trade does not mean that further education

is out. "Continuing education and a trade are not mutually exclusive,"

McKay stresses.

And while many trades are physically demanding, most are open to mature

career switchers as well as to recent high school graduates. There

are special programs to bring women into the trades, and McKay urges

individuals in both categories to look into them.

Important building projects in New York City and in New Jersey await.

They will stand long enough to impress children and grandchildren.

Even the normally cynical, smart-mouthed Meadow Soprano sees the possibilities.

In the premiere episode of the hit HBO program, set in New Jersey,

Meadow’s father, mafia don Tony Soprano, took her into an ornate church,

pointed to marble and stone carvings and said something like: "Your

grandfather built this." When the girl squirmed and sighed audibly,

he said, "No, I mean he really built it. With his hands."

Meadow grew silent, looked around at the stained glass, columns, and

statues, and was indeed impressed.

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