Union Construction Training Program Graduates First All-Female Class in CT

For the first time since its inception in 1999, New Haven County’s own Construction Worker Initiative 2 (CWI2) graduated its first all-female class. On October 23rd, 37 women collected certifications in carpentry or painting and taping from the training school. The program, which prepares the city’s un- and underemployed residents for careers in construction, generally trains 200-300 males and females each year. This year, however, a national non-profit donor called Wider Opportunities for Women suggested running a condensed version of the program exclusively for women. The course was reduced from six to three months and 87 women were accepted.

“It allows women a lot of economic stability,” program director Nichole Jefferson told the Yale Daily News. “Truthfully, many of the woman find us through homeless agencies. Some of them are in very abusive domestic situations.” Jefferson went on to explain that all of the women lived at or below the poverty level, most were supporting families, and only three were married. 

For some participants, the program offered an enticing opportunity to make a mark as a woman in a male-dominated field. Rhonda Knox, graduate and mother of three, told the New Haven Independent that she had always “liked to get her hands dirty” and had a knack for fixing things. “Men are always talking about what women can’t do. [They] say, ‘It’s a man’s world,’” she said. “I thought, ‘No Way. I can do this.’”

According to Chris Cozzi, Chairman of the CWI2 Board, the program also teaches skills that extend beyond construction work. “A big piece of what the program does is give [participants] skills to help the succeed in the industry as well as match them up for industries in which they might have the right aptitude to be successful,” he told Yale Daily News. Participants were required to train from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., pass regular drug tests, and participate in life coaching, math tutoring, and employability training. The collegiate paper explained what’s next for the graduates:

Graduates are currently in the process of interviewing for positions with Connecticut building trade unions, which have first choice on how many and which graduates to hire. If successfully hired, participants enter the trade union as first year apprentices and work on construction sites that employ union members.

For Cherie Gordino, a mother of four who graduated from the carpentry division, it’s exactly what she needed. “Being here at 6:30 every morning was hard,” she told the New Haven Independent. “But I got used to it and now I wake up at the same time every day. Now I’m looking forward to getting a job.”