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Young Female Plumbing Apprentice Thriving on Daytona Speedway Project

Photo by David Tucker

Photo by David Tucker

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The Daytona Beach News-Journal recently featured 22-year-old Daytona State College apprentice Barbara Cochran who is excelling at the Daytona Rising project at the Daytona International Speedway. Of the 800 construction workers at the speedway, 15 are women. Cochran was interested in the trades since her youth:

“(My uncle) would tell me stories about how he would go high up on these buildings and he’d be welding 200 feet in the air,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like so much fun.’ And he sat down with me one day and showed me how to weld — and I was hooked.”

She originally wanted to pursue pipe-fitting, but plumbing fit the bill.

“I worried that I couldn’t do it at first, that I didn’t have the mechanical skills or the strength,” she said. “But there is equipment that can help you with the heavy lifting, and the program teaches you everything you need to know. It’s fun, it’s hands-on and it’s a happy place to work.”

Only roughly 9 percent of the construction workforce was female in 2014 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number drops to 1.1 percent in plumbing, the News-Journal writes.  Apprenticeship programs such as Daytona Beach State College’s are helping to bend this trend.

During the five-year apprenticeship students earn 10,000 hours of on-the-job training with classes ranging from OSHA safety training to blueprint reading, to getting their hands on the tools.  The apprentices earn up to $18 an hour under the earn-while-you-learn model that is the backbone of union apprenticeships.

The program returned last semester after a year-long pause.  The economy caused interest in the program to dwindle from 60 students to 10.  The relaunched program has 33 students.  

As Mary Bruno, associate Vice President of the College of Workforce and Continuing Education at DSC, explained to The Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“The interest in all of the construction jobs fell” during the recession.  “Now it’s seen as a legitimate opportunity,” Bruno said of the growth. “When you need a plumber, you need that plumber.”


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