ValleyBuild NOW builds women up to construction trades

The Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board program ValleyBuild NOW encourages women to enter male-dominated construction trades through path to apprenticeships

According to occupation data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 4% of people working on-site in the construction and extraction industries are women. (Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board)
Serena Bettis
Published March 25, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – Women across the Central Valley have the opportunity to pave a path to a new, high-paying career in the building and construction trades through a program administered by the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board (FRWDB).

The FRWDB is currently recruiting for the ValleyBuild NOW program, an offshoot of the ValleyBuild Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) Apprenticeship Readiness Training Program geared toward women. With a “staggeringly low” number of women in the construction trades, FRWDB Senior Project Coordinator Ashley Matthews said ValleyBuild NOW looks to change that — and women’s lives. 

“If you are able to increase a woman’s income — help her increase her household’s income — it benefits not just her, but her children and future generations,” Matthews said. “You can break the cycle of poverty and take your family and get into those stable, middle-class jobs.” 

ValleyBuild is a partnership between county workforce development boards and the Building and Construction Trades Councils throughout the Central Valley, Matthews said. The FRWDB is the lead fiscal and administrative agency for ValleyBuild, meaning it coordinates all of the program’s efforts across 14 counties.

Funding for ValleyBuild and ValleyBuild NOW comes from the state’s investment in apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. ValleyBuild programs are pre-apprenticeship exploratory programs that introduce individuals to a variety of building and construction trades through hands-on experience. 

Those who go through the ValleyBuild program hear from 12 different trades and learn about various apprenticeship programs that are available to them. The FRWDB then helps trainees apply to union apprenticeship programs and also provides support during an apprenticeship, Matthews said. 

Matthews said ValleyBuild began in Fresno more than a decade ago, and the idea for ValleyBuild NOW came about as the program has gone regional throughout the last four years.

Breaking down barriers

The “NOW” of ValleyBuild NOW stands for non-traditional occupations for women; according to detailed occupation data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 4% of people working on-site in the construction and extraction industries are women. More broadly, just under 11% of the building trades workforce is made up of women.

“I think that most people can agree that women, we tend to be put in caregiver roles, and caregiver roles are not always the best paid roles out there, unfortunately,” Matthews said. 

ValleyBuild NOW is an all-female cohort that aims to encourage women into joining the building and construction trades by breaking down the real and perceived barriers to what is a historically male-domintated industry. (Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board)

These kinds of roles include child care and health care, Matthews said, and while they are equally intense and important, they do not come with the same pay as other fields, which limits an individual’s ability to support their family, buy a home or advance in their career. 

The FRWDB, along with the state of California, has been working to invest more in recruiting women into these trades and supporting them, in order to build equity and grow the construction trades workforce as a whole. 

ValleyBuild NOW is an all-female cohort meant to encourage women to join the building and construction trades by breaking down real and perceived barriers to a historically male-domintated industry. 

Along with providing the all-female cohort, the FRWDB commissioned a Women’s Equity Study published in March 2023 that interviewed and surveyed women who went through or applied to the ValleyBuild program or were connected to the FRWDB in some other way. 

The study found a variety of elements that may be keeping women from joining the program and has been working to address those. 

Two of the biggest barriers to participation in the ValleyBuild NOW program were child care and transportation costs and compensation for training hours. 

Study respondents who completed the program said that one of the only reasons they were able to do the program was because they had family support when it came to arranging child care or forgoing a paycheck while in training. Had they not had that extra support, they would not have been able to complete the program. 

To help address this, the FRWDB received an Equal Representation in Construction Apprenticeship Grant (ERiCA) from the state that provides child care stipends to program participants while they go through the ValleyBuild NOW training and go through their apprenticeship training.

Additionally, Matthews said the FRWDB has implemented an hourly training stipend for those in the ValleyBuild program, so that they do not have to choose between remaining in their current job for a steady income and seeking out a higher-paying career field. 

Matthews said that Tradeswomen, Inc., an Oakland-based advocacy group, has also helped with the FRWDB’s efforts to encourage women to join the program. The group creates custom workshops for women in leadership roles on job sites and addresses the culture of the construction industry. 

An element that stood out to Matthews in the equity study was also the perceived barriers to joining the building and construction trades that respondents spoke about. For example, for a majority of the women who never applied to the program, a perceived barrier was that they would face major discrimination in the industry, according to the study. 

To help combat these findings, Matthews said the FRWDB is making sure that the ValleyBuild program involves women mentors and shows women currently working in the trades the program explores so that other women can see “the amazing women being produced by this training.” 

Matthews said that the study showed her they have to address the notion that women may not be welcome in these fields and tackle that head-on.

 “That is one of the huge takeaways for me is we have to put a spotlight on it, and we have to talk about it, even if we’re uncomfortable,” Matthews said.

Individuals interested in the program can visit valleybuild.net to complete a registration form; they will then be contacted by the project coordinators and get set up for an informational orientation. The program’s third all-female cohort begins on May 28.

There are minimum requirements for the program, including that an individual be at least 18 years old, can pass a drug test and holds a high school diploma or GED certification. Matthews said that if someone is interested in the program but does not have a high school diploma, the FRWDB can help them find a path to getting that credential.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter