On August 23rd, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT) joined Governor JB Pritzker, Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL), to announce the recipients of a $1.35 million federal grant. The grant will be allocated to the Illinois Department of Labor, in partnership with Chicago Women in Trades, to fund our new Tradeswomen Build Infrastructure (TBI) initiative that will build upon previous work done by CWIT’s National Center for Women’s Equity and Apprenticeship.

This grant signifies a critical moment for the intersection of infrastructure and equity. With the passage of the historic $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), state and federal agencies are breaking ground on major infrastructure projects around the country. And with it comes an influx of career opportunities for work in the construction trades. In response, CWIT has launched the TBI initiative, a collaborative effort between CWIT and tradeswomen organizations across the country. The goal of this collaboration is to accelerate state and local efforts to increase women’s inclusion on BIL-funded construction projects to ensure that historically excluded groups are being equitably represented.

“It’s our goal that with this grant, while working alongside Chicago Women in Trades, we can continue to transform the public construction and infrastructure workforce to include more women,” said Illinois Department of Labor Director Jane Flanagan at the launch event. “That starts with greater access to the industry, apprenticeships, and using data to measure retention and opportunities for advancement.”

Women’s ability to enter and stay in the trades has historically been challenged by various factors ranging from toxic and unsafe worksites to transitory, short-lived employment opportunities. To address these barriers, TBI will also work to provide guidance and technical assistance to industry partners to develop and implement recruitment and retention strategies that advance women’s participation and success in completing apprenticeship programs. In addition, the initiative will advocate for policies and practices laid out in CWIT’s Infrastructure Equity framework, that fight for accountability and transparency on public projects. Lastly, TBI will seek to support the expansion of pre-apprenticeship training and essential supportive services. The current grant builds on the first phase of this effort spearheaded by CWIT in the fall of 2022 that supported trades women’s organizations in 11 states and municipalities to mobilize community-based collaborative teams to develop and implement workforce-equity plans for BIL-funded projects in their areas.

The success of this initiative will be bolstered by our partnerships with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau and the Illinois Department of Labor, who will support CWIT’s work to implement TBI’s major components.