Breaking into the world of skilled trades requires, well, the right set of skills.
Spokane Community College offers the ideal first step for students aiming to become skilled tradespeople with the affordable 11-week Skilled Trades Program (STP). Applications for STP are open! The next session starts in April. Call 509-533-7221 to learn more and enroll.
STP produces well-prepared graduates with training in applied math, construction basics, first aid, financial literacy and more. The instructors and apprenticeship coordinators are present every step of the way to help propel STP grads into successful apprenticeships in everything from carpentry to plumbing to construction.
“STP is designed to provide the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in construction trade apprenticeships,” said SCC Manager of Apprenticeship Kenna May. “STP graduates meet and network with apprenticeship training directors and earn industry-recognized credentials making them high-quality applicants.”
Skilled trades opportunities are abundant – particularly for underrepresented communities.
According to the National Association of Women in Construction, women make up about 47% of the total workforce in the U.S., but in 2020, accounted for only 10.9% of construction workers. The largely untapped potential for women is undeniable in a field where the need for labor is unwavering.
STP grads Michelle Lytle, Andrea Kathrens and Lydia Butler are three women who are breaking the concrete ceiling.
Michelle Lytle – Journey-level Ironworker
Michelle Lytle is an STP success story. She began her skilled trades career at SCC, worked through an intensive apprenticeship, and is now a journey-level ironworker. After originally obtaining a culinary arts degree and working as a cook for several years, Michelle decided it was time for a change.
“I wanted more of a career than a job,” she recalled. Determined to put her childhood love of woodshop to good use, Michelle entered STP to learn the basics of construction and explore her reawakened passion.
Michelle’s career as an ironworker has spanned half a decade, and she has begun to settle into a front-row seat to witness the cultural shifts in the skilled trades community as more women join.
“Even being in only five years, I’ve seen a slight change, at least with more women joining the trades,” she said. “I have heard stories about how much it’s changed just within the last 10-plus years, and I’m sure it’s completely different from when it first started. I’ve worked with more women in my five years than some people have in 30 years.”
Passionate about promoting skilled trade careers for women, Michelle suggests joining the STP program as a great starting point.
“Don’t be afraid to join the trades,” she said. “If you show up to work, keep busy at all times, even if it’s picking up garbage, as long as you show initiative and ask questions, they’ll see you’re trying and not scared to be one of the ‘brothers/sisters’. At least that’s been my experience. It’s definitely worth joining.”
Andrea Kathrens – Commercial Electrical Apprentice
Andrea Kathrens is currently in her second year as a union 01 commercial electrical apprentice at Power City, one of Local 73’s largest electrical contractors. Her work delves into branch circuits, wire pulling, troubleshooting and much more.
As with many skilled trade workers, Andrea was always interested in working with her hands. However, she was unsure of how to break into the field. A quick online search brought her to the STP webpage, and she decided it was a perfect choice.
“I absolutely feel that STP gave me a leg up in getting into my apprenticeship,” Andrea recalled. “During the quarter, we toured Spokane's local union apprenticeship training facilities. This provided us with invaluable information on different career options in skilled trade work. STP gives all the resources you'll need to succeed.”
Andrea’s answer is emphatic when asked about her advice for women considering skilled trade work.
“My only regret in joining the electrical apprenticeship is that I didn't do it the day I turned 18!” she said. “When you can stand back and look at a building and say, "I helped build that" it's a great feeling.”
However, she also acknowledges that the challenges of working as part of an underrepresented community should do not ignored.
“It won't always be easy,” Andrea cautioned. “You'll deal with plenty of men who believe women don't have a place in construction. You'll have to work harder to do the same job. That being said, it will still be the best decision you’ve ever made for your future!”
Lydia Butler – Sprinkler Fitter Apprentice
Lydia Butler’s path to skilled trades began when she started exploring ways to help support her family, and she completed the Skilled Trades Program last fall.
“STP helped me not only by giving insight on what a journeyman would expect from me and hands-on experience with tools but the opportunity to hear from real individuals in their respective fields,” Lydia said. “Their stories and information gave me the insight I needed to learn whether or not I wanted to apply myself to that field.”
Lydia’s road to her apprenticeship started before she even graduated. A member of the UA Local 669 helped her look for an opportunity with the sprinkler fitter apprenticeship, and she is now in her first year.
Starting with a pre-apprenticeship program is a great first step for women thinking about breaking into the trades, but Lydia’s advice goes beyond this practical first measure.
“Find good support systems, whether it’s a women's group or friends and family,” she said. “Especially when you’re in a career that is still getting used to your gender integrating into the field. Do your research on the fields you're interested in and figure out what is important for you. Don't let anyone devalue your aspirations. You can do anything, and no one can take that from you."