I have been blessed with opportunities to meet people and organizations that are innovating workforce development in ways that can be modeled everywhere. One of these groups is the Biloxi, Mississippi-based Moore Community House (MCH).
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, I wanted to conclude my series on women in welding by interviewing Ruth Mazara, program director at MCH.
The Moore House has been helping Gulf Coast families since the 1920s. Can you tell me the organization’s history?
Moore Community House was founded in Biloxi in 1924, at a time when east Biloxi was filled with seafood factories that attracted workers from around the world. Many came with young children. Moore Community House offered education and other services to the children in east Biloxi, and we have continued to provide affordable childcare over the past 96 years. As a mission agency of United Methodist Women, we support low-income women and children. Currently, we have two major programs: an Early Head Start program, which offers childcare and family support services to pregnant women and children from birth to 3 years old, and our Women in Construction (WinC) program.
When was the decision made to begin a pre-apprenticeship job training program for women in construction?
After Hurricane Katrina, there were many construction and trade jobs on the Mississippi Gulf Coast due to the extensive rebuilding necessary after the devastation, but the women that we served at MCH were not able to access those jobs. We started a program that gives women the tools to enter the trades – not just the skills, but the knowledge of what it takes to succeed, the confidence to pursue their goals in a male-dominated field, and the support to overcome the barriers to employment that low-income women with children often face. Among the support services we offer is childcare, since reliable, affordable childcare has been shown to increase completion rates in job training programs and helps with retention in the workforce.
What are some of the program details? How many women are served and what’s the placement rate?
The curriculum is designed to support the needs of industry employers in our area. We combine classroom and hands-on learning for participants to earn industry recognized stackable credentials, such as NCCER and OSHA cards, while offering supportive services, such as childcare, transportation, and work-gear assistance, to remove barriers that would otherwise prevent women from participating in workforce training. Our program has been nationally recognized as a best practice model for workforce training. In addition to the industry curriculum, MCH WinC focuses on the essential skills that often lead to career success, such as communication, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, financial literacy, and resume writing and interviewing.
With a 78% graduation rate, MCH WinC has graduated more than 700 women since inception in 2008, and currently holds a 66% placement rate. Graduates can visit MCH WinC to update resumes, apply to additional/advanced training, seek job placement assistance and volunteer.
Why create a program just for women in construction, as opposed to a co-ed apprenticeship?
Women in Mississippi make up half of the workforce, but hold two-thirds of the state’s minimum wage jobs. Construction craft jobs can earn three times minimum wage at entry level! These fields can provide a living wage for female-led families; however, women hold only about 2% of Mississippi’s construction craft jobs. MCH WinC gives women the tools to apply for these jobs and provides them with a pathway to self-sufficiency for themselves and their families.
What kind of support does the program get from employer and government partners?
We work closely with local employers in terms of our curriculum and program design, in order to be responsive to the needs of the industry and to give our graduates the best chance possible for long-term employment.
Our graduates can apply the skills and knowledge they learn in our program in an array of industry and further training opportunities. There are graduates working with various commercial and residential contractors and manufacturing companies as electricians, scaffold builders, logistics personnel, construction crew leaders, apprentices, etc. We often refer graduates to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which provides craft training, for which we will supply the personal protective equipment.
Finally, what do you think the future of Women in Construction looks like?
We are always looking for new opportunities to partner and provide a skilled workforce to employers. In the future, we hope to build on our past successes to continue to provide training to even more women, while always being responsive to the needs of industry in our region.
– Ryan Blythe, the founder of Georgia Trade School.