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Project CREW--Construction Readiness Education for Women

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Women benefit with careers in construction while the community benefits from their labor

by Jennifer Jackson

Project CREW Construction Readiness Education for Women is well into its sixth successful year at Ozarks Technical Community College. The program, which was originally proposed as a one-year pilot project by OTC and the Missouri Women's Council, is supported by Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) funds, which are distributed through Job Council of the Ozarks.

So, how is it that a program that the government allocated one year of support for has made it six years and counting? The answer is quite simple. It works. This program changes lives.

Each year, 15 women begin the journey by enrolling in OTC and completing 32 college credit hours in construction technology, math, English composition and countless other hours in personal and professional development and strength training.

Most of the women who make the difficult decision to commit themselves to this nine months of intensive training do so because their personal, financial and family status demand that they become competitive candidates for higher paying jobs.

Project CREW is all about addressing the barriers that many women face as they begin to fill jobs that have traditionally been held by men. These barriers, however, have slowly begun to dissipate as more and more women pave the road for other women to follow.

It is likely that most construction workers have by now had the opportunity to work beside a woman who can keep up. Furthermore, it has become increasingly apparent that skilled labor is a scarce and valuable commodity to the construction industry, and it will take men and women alike to fill these jobs.

At OTC, we are doing our part to fill the void. This program results in the unemployed and underemployed working full time for higher wages than they have ever earned. Project CREW boasted 100 percent job placement for the last academic year, and never less than 75 percent placement in the previous four years of the program's existence. Placement just keeps getting easier.

Professional construction organizations such as the local Home Builders Association, Springfield Contractors Association and The Builders Association have always taken an active interest in learning who the recent CREW graduates are and what their skills are so that they can assist in matching their membership with entry level employees.

However, the best testimony to the quality of the CREW labor pool is the students themselves. Each year, 15 more CREW women enter the industry, and they are often in the position to recommend or even hire additional help by the following year.

Clearly, the CREW program is working for our students and for the construction industry. A bonus side-effect of the program is that it also appears to be working for our citizenry. The women of Project CREW have contributed literally thousands of hours of community service as part of their hands-on construction training exercises.

Many local nonprofit organizations have benefitted, including Habitat for Humanity, OACAC, the Dogwood Trails Girl Scout Council, Association for Retarded Citizens, and Esther's Maternity Haven, to name but a few.

Perhaps the single task that we have been less successful at tackling is establishing alternate means of support for the CREW program when the JTPA pocket is empty. It will inevitably become necessary for those that benefit most from the construction training program to begin to share the financial demands of its continued existence.

Part of my job in coming months and years will be to strengthen the financial future of the CREW Program through proactive community information and fund-raising efforts. I am certain that we are well on our way to another six years of service to hardworking women, the construction industry and the community at large.

(Jennifer Jackson is the director of Project CREW.)

INSET CAPTION:

Project CREW boasted 100 percent job placement for the last academic year, and 75 percent or more in the preceeding four years.[[In-content Ad]]

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