CINCINNATI, Ohio - Don't be afraid to think outside of the box. Or build a brand new box.
That's the lesson 18 Cincinnati area teens learned during a three-week summer program that taught them construction skills.
In its sixth year, Rosie's Girls builds on the World War II-era cultural icon, Rosie the Riveter. Rosie's "We Can Do It!" slogan represented American women who worked in factories while men were off to war.
This year's Rosie's Girls team graduated Friday at Woodward Career and Technical High School in Bond Hill.
The three-week program targeted middle school students, and this year's graduates came from 15 Cincinnati communities. Rosie's Girls partners are The YWCA of Greater Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
In three weeks they made toolboxes, lamps and even built a 10 x 10 x 12 playhouse.
They took classes in carpentry, welding, electricity, art and more.
Shere Tolbert, 14, was among Friday's graduates. She demonstrated hammer and drill work she learned.
"My sisters were here, and told me it was a lot of fun. I thought I would try it. I really liked carpentry and making toolboxes. I also liked welding and art," Tolbert said.
The experience boosted her confidence in handling tools. She's now considering pursuing an education in the construction industry, she added. "When I first got here, I was kind of shy. I was trying to figure what was what, and how to use things. I've really learned a lot here," Tolbert said.
Rosie's Girls is multi-faceted. Not only did students learn about building, they also worked on public speaking, took a self defense class, and visited Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky.
The Gateway trip highlighted the college's construction and building programs.
Gateway was a turning point for student Robbin Dearmond, 15, who wants to learn carpentry at the community college.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do in college, and I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. So this was quite an experience," she said.
Women a Small Percentage of Construction Workforce
Rosie the Riveter may be a history-making image, but women haven't made many gains in the construction industry since Rosie came along. They comprise just around 3 percent of the construction workforce in the Greater Cincinnati area and nationally, said Rosie's Girls co-founder Janice Urbanik.
About three-fourths of women in construction do sales and office work, according to NAWIC.
“One of the reasons we hold this program at Woodward is because it has a building trades program,’ Urbanik said. “We want the girls to think about coming here when they select a high school."
Woodward is a Cincinnati Public School. CPS allows high school students to pick which school they want to attend. Woodward Career and Technical College programs include construction, engineering and manufacturing programs.
Woodward students can also earn college credit while in high school. While women's participation in the construction workforce is low, their potential career opportunities are high.
It's estimated there will be 1 million new construction jobs by 2016, according to NAWIC.
At the same time, current workers are aging out of the trades. The average construction worker is 48 years old and most will retire in the next 10 to 20 years.
The industry needs architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians and estimators among others.
Rosie's Girls: Building a Workforce and Confidence
Friends, families and supporters were at Friday's graduation ceremony held in Woodward's cafeteria. During the ceremony, graduates were asked to think past their preconceptions of what girls can and cannot do.
Each was pushed to think about their education, and connect that education to a career choice.
"I think the girls are proud of what they have been able to accomplish, and we at the YWCA are proud to share what the girls have done," said Rhonda L. Lindon-Hammon YWCA of Greater Cincinnati Director Youth Services & Girls Inc.
The program puts girls on a path to being competent, thoughtful individuals, said Lindon-Hammon shortly before the girls were handed their graduation certificates.
"Employers are looking for well-rounded employees. They want skilled workers that, no matter the job they're doing, have good communication skills, problem-solving and negotiation skills," she said.
Chenise Bradley was among parents in the audience. Her daughter, 11-year-old Dashyla Harper, was a Rosie's Girl.
"This is a great opportunity for girls to explore different areas that they normally don't venture into," Bradley said. "My daughter learned to build, cut and saw. At first when she came in, she didn't think she could do that sort of thing. But now she feels she can do anything."