Skilled 4 Work: Recruiting women in trade careers

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As interest in skilled trades jobs grows, leaders at institutions like CNM are trying to recruit more women in these fields.

Brianna Lewis is one of a few women in the welding program at CNM. Overall, she’s one of a few in the School of Skilled Trades and Arts at the college.

Lewis’s path wasn’t linear, though. At first, she went to art school to study photography.

After that passion faded, she moved on to bartending.

“It was quick and easy money. I stuck with it for about 14 years. Then, COVID hit and forced me to quit bartending,” she explained.

Lewis decided to pursue a long-time interest – welding.

“I finally had a talk with my wife. She said, ‘I know you want to do welding,’ because I am not happy with my life choices at this moment, and she said ‘Well let’s do it.’,” Lewis explained.

She eventually landed at the CNM welding lab. It was clear, after picking up the torch, welding was no longer just an interest.

“Your melting metal together to build structures and almost anything. It’s almost endless. Welding has sparked a passion of mine that I didn’t know I had,” Lewis said.

Historically, the skilled trades industry has been male-dominated. However, CNM has seen an uptick in women enrolling in their skilled trades programs over the years.

“We’ve got quite a few skilled trades programs. We have carpentry, electrical trades, aviation maintenance, industrial automation or mechatronics,” said Sharon Gordon-Moffett, the interim dean of the School of Skilled Trades and Arts.

With a high demand for jobs, not just in Albuquerque but almost everywhere in New Mexico and the U.S., they’re working on recruiting more people to fill in the gaps – with a special focus on recruiting women.

“Earlier this year, we had our second annual Women in Trades Summit. We had over 400 participants, more than 32 industry reps set up, booths and we’re already planning for 2024,” Gordon-Moffett said.

While Lewis didn’t think a career in skilled trades would be the next move, she says anybody can do it.

“If you look out there, right now there is me and another girl. The rest of it is all male. There’s nothing wrong with that but I feel that women have the same skills and the same opportunities as men do. So yeah why not?” Lewis said.

Just last month, CNM broke ground on a multi-million dollar facility. It’ll house labs and classrooms dedicated to skilled trades.

The college is also working with APS and Rio Rancho Public Schools to encourage young people to pursue a career in the trades.