Girls learn construction skills at free Philly camp

Participants in the Mentoring young Women In Construction Camp received instruction Tuesday, July 20, from members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

About 30 high school and middle school girls spent Tuesday learning about how to cut sheet metal at a union training center in South Philadelphia.

The experience was part of a unique, and completely free, summer camp called Mentoring young Women In Construction, or MyWIC, aimed at encouraging girls to explore careers in the male-dominated construction industry.

“My favorite part is the hands-on experience like this,” said Ashae Butler, 15, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia. “I’m looking forward to going to construction sites and working hands-on.”

Jaya Adams, 12, of North Philadelphia, said she was also drawn to the camp for its hands-on nature.

“My dad’s a carpenter and my grandpa’s an electrician, so I kind of already knew about the trades a little bit,” she told Metro. “But I still wanted to get an in-depth feel of it to see if that’s maybe what I want to do in the future.”

Jack Tomczuk

MyWIC began earlier this month and runs two days a week through Aug. 17. It is operated by the NAWIC Philadelphia Foundation, which is affiliated with the local chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.

The camp was described by NAWIC as the first-of-its-kind in Pennsylvania when it started in 2009. Last year, the program was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, the girls received instruction from members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19. Recently, they traveled to Five Below’s headquarters to learn about the company’s construction division.

Mary Gaffney, a NAWIC board member, said participants will be going to other union apprenticeship schools; touring two job sites at different stages of construction; and hosting women in the industry as guest speakers.

Boots, hard hats, safety glasses, transportation and food for campers is all provided, thanks to NAWIC and a litany of sponsors, including labor organizations and construction firms.

Jack Tomczuk

Just under 90% of those in the building industry are men, but opportunities for women are increasing, according to NAWIC.

Gaffney, who owns GEM Mechanical Services, a Delaware County-based pipefitting business, pitches the trades as an alternative to college, which often leaves young people in debt and, increasingly, without a high-paying job.

“Females can really earn a great income and sustain their families and be more independent just by getting into the trades and learning the business,” she said.