By Carol Masshardt
Building Pathways, housed in a simple building on Columbus Ave. has a powerful mission and an Executive Director devoted to the goal of helping women, and others historically underrepresented, gain a foothold in the trades. Mary Vogel, an attorney with a Georgetown degree, knows not only the laws and regulations of construction process and safety, but has been deeply committed to equity and inclusion throughout her career.
“I wanted to be a social worker, and actually started to go that route, but it was really community organizing as an agent of social change that was my interest, and that’s what the labor movement is,” she said. So, with law school behind her, she did legal aid work in the 80’s and then on to representing the North American Trade Union, and a list of impressive and collaborative efforts in worker safety, including serving as General Counsel to the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute and Executive Director of the Asbestos Victims Special Fund Trust. Her accomplishments and the regard she earned could have led her anyplace, but Boston and the trades was a natural fit.
From Wisconsin, where she spent early years, to CT., to DC., to western, Ma. and suburbs of Boston and finally Boston for the past three years, her knowledge dedication, vigor and patience is the right match for a complex environment of the “trades” that can be both progressive and tradition bound.
Building Pathways, with diverse funding, is designed to work for everyone who may be interested in careers in the trades. The people who enter the program get enormous support in pre-apprentice workshops, but also more intensive involvement as the small but energized staff of six work to achieve job placement and sustained employment in union-based trades.
“It is a comprehensive approach. There are pre-apprentice workshops, but also outreach to high school programs, and “Tradeswomen Tuesday” when woman already working in the field share their experience, and it doesn’t end with just a job, but a job with a union that pays well and offers benefits that make sense,” she said.
There are usually layers to successful programs, and Building Pathways is a perfect example. The involvement is broad and include policy processes that define and protect workers environments, contractors who need a ready pool of capable workpeople, and a labor force that is motivated and diverse, and the political underpinnings of contracts. Despite it all, Building Pathways isn’t daunted by challenges and seems ready to engage and build the next workforce one person and policy at a time.
“Jobs in the trades tend to start at 6 or 7 AM and go until 3PM,” said Mary Vogel, “and there is teamwork and all kinds of factors in this, but it is tough for parents. We helped someone find early AM daycare and know that these are things that can be barriers to the kind of success everyone deserves.”
The tasks and goals of the six employees at Building Pathways isn’t easy, and diversity in the trades in a still a work in progress. Many women, among other underrepresented groups, are steered toward other work lives for which they may be less suited and satisfied.
“If ‘you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ as the adage goes,” explained Vogel. “In Boston it is better but in outlying areas you may not see woman tradespeople. But the climate is changing, as it has to, toward a culture shift where everyone is welcomed. As the workforce changes and people retire, it is the time to have women front and center, and then to make sure that the right supports are in place, so they stay in the industry.”
Imagine the building activity in Boston alone and the opportunities to those who want a “hands on” job that changes every day and requires good thinking and teamwork without being tethered to an office. With wages and benefits that are respectable and varying routes to higher education, it is a path that can be appealing for women who think beyond the usual options.
“It’s my passion for the rest of my career,” said Mary Vogel. “It’s always been about worker’s rights, inclusivity, and safe workplaces where people are paid fairly and look to good retirements.”
If the seven- hundred who attended a recent conference of “Women in the Trades,” along with Secretary of Commerce Marty Walsh and leaders in all the trades and industries are any signal, it seems that surely this goal is within sight. The doors are open and waiting for those who want to be part of building Boston for the next decade, and you may just catch a beautiful sunrise over this ever-developing city.
If interested in learning more about the programs at Building Pathways, you are invited to contact mary@buildingpathwaysMA.org or at 617-238-5292.