Untapped Resources, Untapped Labor Pool: Using Federal Highway Funds to Prepare Women for Careers in Construction
Women are underrepresented in highway, street, and bridge construction where employment is projected to grow by more than 20 percent until 2022. Creating sustainable pathways into construction careers fills critical hiring needs for industry while improving economic security for women, as these jobs typically provide family-supporting wages with good benefits. Activities to improve women’s recruitment and retention in skilled construction jobs are widely known, but dedicated funding for such activities is scarce. Federal highway funding offers states a stable resource that can support activities that improve women’s entry into and success in the construction trades. This briefing highlights examples of how two states, Maryland and Oregon, are using this funding to improve diversity in the highway construction workforce. The paper begins by discussing the lack of gender diversity in the construction workforce, describes the challenges and proven strategies for improving the pipeline into construction jobs for women, and outlines how federal highway dollars can be used to improve the diversity of this workforce by funding on-the-job training and support services. The briefing paper is based on a review of literature, pre-apprenticeship state-level evaluations and progress reports, and interviews with key stakeholders from Oregon, the tradeswomen community, and the U.S. Department of Transportation.