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Opportunity Gap and Women in the Energy Infrastructure Workforce

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts above-average employment growth for jobs in the construction industry. And despite the majority of entry-level jobs in construction requiring a high school diploma or less, median annual wages in the industry are over 8,000 dollars higher than other industries (Torpey 2018). Despite this growth and relatively high wages, women are severely underrepresented; just 3.5 percent of workers in the construction occupations are women while women make up 47 percent of the labor force. Career and Technical Education (CTE) in high school can provide an avenue for increasing the participation of young women. Through a Researcher Practitioner Partnership (RPP), a team of teachers, trades educators, and administrators from high schools, community colleges, and apprenticeship centers sought to increase access through a virtual design and construction STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career pathway program. The team explored if a Project-based Learning (PBL) approach in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) is a feasible method for woman-focused CTE. We found evidence that targeted recruiting through a feminist positive pathway to create a critical mass of female participants in conjunction with PBL can offer an opportunity for women to enter a traditionally male-dominated field. Furthermore, our study calls for continued theory development into and provides evidence that higher concentrations of women has the potential to increase the industry’s focus on safety, environmental protection, and labor standards. We argue that the lack of female representation is due to an opportunity gap for young women to learn about and join high-skill high-wage occupations.

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