CALAIS, Maine — The young women rolled up their sleeves Friday to change the oil on a car, build a carpenter’s tool box and design bridges during the Totally Trades Conference held at the Washington County Community College.
More than 130 young women from middle and high schools across the county participated in the daylong event designed to encourage girls to consider careers in fields traditionally dominated by men.
According to the Maine Women’s Policy Center in Hallowell, jobs held by women often pay less than those dominated by men.
“Women are more likely to be employed in female-dominated occupations such as nurses, dental hygienists, tellers, secretaries and administrative assistants,” the report said. “Female-dominated occupations pay less than male-dominated positions even though those jobs may require comparable work, training, qualifications, effort and responsibilities. Some occupations pay less because they are occupations that are held by women.”
The sponsors of the Totally Trades Conference hope to change that disparity by introducing girls in grades eight through 12 to alternative kinds of jobs that in the past have been dominated by men, such as engineering, bridge construction, drafting and automotive technology.
Friday morning, the community college gymnasium was abuzz with voices and laughter as the girls settled down in their chairs. They were welcomed to the conference by WCCC President Joyce Hedlund, who told them they needed to be “proud” of themselves and, when faced with a challenge, say “yes, I can.”
Hedlund then introduced Officer Deb Mitchell of the University of Maine Police Department in Orono, who talked about being a police officer and the challenges she faced working in a field dominated by men.
She urged the girls to never allow anyone to tell them they could not do something because they were a “girl.” “If you want to do something do it, don’t be limited by girl-boy restrictions,” she said.
Then it was off to one of the thirteen workshops that included everything from carpentry and automotive repair to heavy equipment operation, plumbing and heating.
Sophia Schmauderer, 17, of Machiasport, a student at Washington Academy in East Machias, Casey Shirley, 14, a student at the Woodland Middle-High School in Baileyville and Marvea “MJ” Jackson, 17, a student at Jonesport-Beals Middle-High School, signed up for the automotive workshop to learn more about the inner-workings of a car.
First, WCCC Instructor Ron O’Brien talked about the importance of checking fluid levels and tire pressure. Then it was time for the girls to roll up their sleeves, put on their safety glasses and protective gloves and get to work.
Schmauderer checked the pressure and tread depth on the demonstration car’s tires. Then the car was lifted onto a hoist and Shirley removed the plug on the oil pan and drained the oil. Afterward, Jackson removed the oil filter.
Schmauderer said after the workshop that she had in the past checked the tire pressure on her car, but was interested in learning how to change the oil.
“I do have my own car and I do have to take care of that,” she said. Asked if she wanted to be a mechanic, she said with a smile, “Probably not for me, but it’s also good to know how to do all this stuff for your car. Now I can change my oil.”
Jackson said she too wanted to learn more about cars. “I would like to get my [auto] mechanic’s license so I can work on my car and others’ cars,” she said.
Shirley said she felt Friday’s session had been a real learning experience.
Following lunch provided by the WCCC culinary & baking class, the girls attended an afternoon workshop of their choice.
Then it was back to the gymnasium, where they all participated in a training session in self-defense taught by Carl Bailey of Calais. Dressed in his karate uniform, he taught them how to be aware of their surroundings and some moves to use to protect themselves against a potential attacker.
The major sponsors of this year’s conference were the Maine Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Maine Department of Education, Washington County Community College, Lane Construction Inc. and Time Warner of Maine.