Nonprofit Nevada Women in Trades helps with life-changing opportunities

Like many who get into the construction trades, Sarah Gutierrez has a family to support.

“I was kind of desperate to look for a job. … I had bills stacking up,” she says.

The 23-year-old mother of two was working at call centers and in customer service before she decided to make a career switch. She then met Evelyn Pacheco, president of the nonprofit Nevada Women in Trades, a program which helps women break into the construction industry.

Pacheco helped Gutierrez introduce herself to several companies hiring sprinkler fitters and helped her with job applications. She got an interview two or three weeks later and learned about an apprenticeship program through UA Local Union 669. 

“I went in, did the interview. And they asked, was I willing to do schoolwork and work at the same time? And I said yes, definitely, that’s no challenge for me at all. So from there, I got my job with Shambaugh & Son, which is the company I’m currently working with now as an apprentice.”

Gutierrez has discovered a pathway to an entire industry that can change her financial situation–an opportunity that should be open equally to women as it is to men. But less than 11% of workers in the construction industry are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s one reason why Pacheco founded Nevada Women in Trades in 2018. Pacheco provides support to Gutierrez and the 50 other women who have come through the program. She says five women have gone on to get their journeyman license.

Pacheco provides a wealth of experience as a retired plumber of 15 years.

“I got into the trades at 33. As far as Nevada Women in Trades, I’ve helped women up to the ages of 40,” Pacheco says.

Her pathway to the skilled trade started with serving in the military, where she served as a light wheel mechanic. When she returned to civilian life, she didn’t use her skills as a mechanic again until someone suggested she work in an engineering department at a casino.

“I never really thought about it, even though mechanical was my background,” she says. “I ended up going to Fitzgeralds (now the D) and working in the engineering department. They taught me about soldering, plumbing, a little electrical work. I got my boilers license. It was a whole new world for me.”

Pacheco discovered there is a wealth of opportunity in the construction trades. Now, she wants those opportunities to be equally accessible to all women, especially women of color and those who are in the foster care system, or ex-prisoners reentering society.

“I think trade schools (are) opening up the doors for women of color,” she says. “Even for the ladies that have been in domestic (violence), this might be a way for them to make better money and do what they need to be able to do.”

Pacheco is working on getting a bill sponsored in the Nevada Legislature that would require job sites to meet a certain percent threshold of women apprentices on the job.

“I think with Brightline coming in and all the other hotels coming in, that we should have a percentage of women in all these jobs,” she says.

As for Gutierrez, her job in sprinkler fitting better equips her to support her family than if she had stayed in call centers and customer service.

“My motivation is giving my kids a better future. Since they’re small now, I want to try to get my job and secure money for later since I’m still pretty young. At the end of the day, it’s going to benefit my kids,” Gutierrez says.

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