Women in Nontraditional Careers

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The US Department of Labor (DOL) defines nontraditional careers as those in which women comprise less than 25 percent of the workforce -- this includes everything from aerospace engineer to wood machinist. If you like hands-on work, you might want to consider one of these careers.

Why a Nontraditional Career? High wages and good benefits are two good reasons to look into working in a male-dominated industry. "You get a great sense of accomplishment when you can see the results of your work, which in my case is air cleaning products," says Dawn Rogers, a senior designer. "I've worked as a drafter, designer, CAD administrator and drafting supervisor, all of which have been enjoyable. I can't imagine any better career for myself."

Where Do You Start? Pre-apprentice programs offer short-term training, affording women a good way to sample a job in the trades. Throughout the country, many nonprofit agencies offer training for women interested in nontraditional work. "WomenVenture's five-week preapprentice construction training program provides a safe, nonthreatening environment," says Rita Rodriguez, who manages the organization's Jobs in the Trades program in St. Paul. "Women are more likely to ask questions about tools and clarification of terminology when surrounded by other women."

Many technical colleges offer training for nontraditional careers. Some people bypass technical college and start with an apprenticeship, which offers a chance to earn while you learn.

Examples of Nontraditional Careers

  • Auto Service Technician: If working on cars revs your engine, a career as an auto service technician, AKA mechanic, may be for you. Experienced service technicians can earn between $70,000 and $100,000 a year, according to the DOL. Training programs range from under a year to two years. "Although women can definitely be successful in the automotive service industry, it is important for them to get a job working around vehicles as soon as possible while going to school," says Chuck Bowen, head of automotive service technology at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis. "A good place to start without experience would be as a lube technician [changing oil]. Many shops will help train for this position. Also, get to know good, positive technicians who are willing to mentor you and give you some of their knowledge."
  • Truck Driver: If you enjoy driving, you might want to get behind the wheel of a big rig. Tractor-trailer driver training programs typically last less than one year and are offered at many private and public technical schools. Many employers require applicants to be at least 25 years old and have a commercial driver's license (CDL). Employers prefer a high school diploma or GED and a good driving record. According to the DOL, the median wage for truck drivers is $31,000 per year, although some drivers get paid by the mile.
  • Plumber: Plumbers provide practical, hands-on solutions to problems by repairing and installing water, waste, drainage and gas systems in all sorts of buildings, from homes to power plants. They also install and service fixtures such as showers, sinks, toilets, dishwashers and water heaters. Good math and science skills are a must. The median wage for plumbers is about $38,000 per year, according to the DOL.
  • Electrician: Electricians install, test and maintain electrical systems. According to the DOL, the median wage for electricians is $19.29 per hour.

Challenges and Resources Men and women often have preconceived notions of what is "women's work." Women breaking into a male-dominated industry face many challenges, which may include sexual harassment and isolation. "When I started working as a mechanical drafter, I was the first woman hired in the engineering department at the company I worked for," says Rogers. "The men in the department were generally accepting of me, but there was some animosity directed toward me. To offset that, I decided to work twice as hard and take on any engineering challenge that was given to me." Networking with other women who work in nontraditional jobs is a good way to receive and offer support. Many metropolitan cities have support groups for women who work in male-dominated industries.

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