People of Color in the Trades resource article header image

Service Direct Resource Guide

A Guide to Working in the Trades as a Person of Color

Discover how to overcome barriers and access resources in order to lead in your field.

People of Color in the Trades resource article header image mobile

Service Direct Resource Guide

A Guide to Working in the Trades as a Person of Color

Discover how to overcome barriers and access resources in order to lead in your field.

People of color have long faced systemic and social barriers to success—and working in the skilled trades is no exception. Currently, people of color are underrepresented in almost all trades—only 6% of construction workers are Black, and most skilled trade industries show similar numbers.

POC remain underrepresented, particularly in leadership roles and high-skill areas. This gap is more than a remnant of historical inequity; it represents a pressing opportunity for growth. 

If you’re working in the trades, you know better than anyone the hurdles that come with the territory. Your presence in these fields is a testament to resilience, skill, and the undeniable value POC bring to the workforce. It’s time to push for the changes needed to ensure fair representation and opportunities for advancement. In this article, we’ll outline all the challenges you may face as a POC in the skilled trades and how to overcome them.

Person of Color working in home service trades

The Current State of Skilled Trades for People of Color

Though diversity in the skilled trades has increased in recent years, there is still a long way to go to ensure equal opportunity for workers of all races. The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles detailed demographic data annually; let’s examine the numbers.

Based on the Bureau’s findings, in the construction industry, one of the largest trade sectors, Black workers constitute about 6% of the workforce despite making up 12% of the total US labor force. On the other hand, Hispanic or Latino workers represent approximately 30% of construction workers, which is higher than their 18% share of the national labor force. This indicates a concentration in the construction field but it doesn’t necessarily correlate with upward mobility within the industry. 

The numbers tell a similar story in more specialized trades, such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC work. For instance, in the electrical trade, only about 10% of electricians are Black and less than 2% are women, pointing to an even broader issue of diversity beyond race. 
Moreover, the visibility of POC in leadership positions within the trades is remarkably low. Even outside of the trades, people of color are less likely to be promoted than their white peers. This lack of representation at the top limits role models for aspiring tradespeople of color and impacts the practices that could facilitate more inclusive and equitable work environments.

Challenges POC Face While Working in the Trades

People of color in the trades face different challenges than their white colleagues. The path to success as a POC in the trades can be bumpy, so knowing what you could be up against is crucial.

Discrimination By Superiors

A 2020 Gallup poll revealed that one in four Black employees had experienced race-based discrimination at work, with Hispanic employees reporting similar numbers. This discrimination can come from superiors who may not even know they’re acting with bias (though sometimes, the racism is explicit.) 

The reality is that POC often receive less challenging assignments or are passed over for advancement opportunities. These disparities not only limit your ability to grow and showcase your capabilities but also contribute to a broader culture of inequality within the trades.

Casual Racism from Peers

The impact of casual racism and microaggressions from coworkers affects workplace morale as well as mental and emotional well-being. While many of your coworkers may not be outwardly racist, offhand comments and microaggressions may lead to feelings of exclusion. 

Microaggressions have more than just an emotional impact, though: studies have shown that even subtle racism can lead to increased cortisol levels and impact your mental health. In addition to that, feeling isolated from your team and colleagues can prevent you from doing your best work on the job. 

You deserve to work in an environment where you feel equal and appreciated.

Lack of Access to Opportunities

As we mentioned before, POC face difficulties in getting promoted and accessing training opportunities. The roots of these barriers lie in historical practices of exclusion and discrimination. It’s no secret that in many workplaces there is a landscape where opportunities are not always distributed based on merit. 

Apprenticeships, specialized training, and working on high-profile projects are all essential to advancing in a skilled trades career. However, you might find that these advanced training opportunities are less accessible, whether due to selection biases, cost, or geographic limitations. 

Similarly, when it comes to securing lucrative contracts, POC often face additional challenges, from overt discrimination to subtle biases in hiring practices.

Person of Color electrician tradesman

How to Break Down the Barriers to Success

So we’ve laid out the barriers you may face as a person of color in the trades, but what can you do about it? Once you know your challenges, you can prepare to overcome them.

Combating Discrimination and Bias

As a POC in the workforce, you may never face explicit bias or discrimination. But it’s essential to have a plan in case you do. 

Knowledge is power and awareness of the legal protections at your disposal is crucial. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is in place to ensure that American workers are protected based on their race, gender, and sexuality so that there is a path to justice. 

Here are the steps to take if you have been discriminated against.

  • Know Your Rights: Research the laws and regulations that protect workers from discrimination, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. Understanding your legal protections is the first step in advocating for yourself.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of instances of discrimination or bias, including dates, times, witnesses, and the nature of the incidents. This documentation can be crucial if you pursue a legal or formal complaint.
  • Use Internal Channels: Many organizations have procedures for addressing workplace discrimination. This can include talking to your supervisor (if they’re not the source of the bias), human resources, or a diversity and inclusion officer.
  • Seek External Support: If internal channels fail, consider filing a complaint with the EEOC or a similar body. Legal advocacy groups and trade unions can also provide guidance and support.
  • Advocate for Policy Changes: Work toward implementing or strengthening workplace policies on diversity, inclusion, and anti-discrimination. This can involve developing clear anti-racism policies, mandatory diversity training, and transparent processes for reporting and addressing discrimination.

“If you’re working in the trades, you know better than anyone the hurdles that come with the territory. Your presence in these fields is a testament to resilience, skill, and the undeniable value POC bring to the workforce.”

Accessing Opportunities and Education

Apprenticeships, mentorship opportunities, and high-profile projects are essential for advancing your career. Luckily, there are also many specialized opportunities for people of color to use for advancement.

If you want to attend a trade school or another specialized program but worry about the cost, there are a number of scholarships and grants available to POC. Organizations like the NAACP and the UNCF are valuable resources. They offer financial assistance that can help cover the costs associated with trade school or apprenticeship programs. 

Take some time to research the different grants and scholarships available to POC, or reach out to the school’s financial aid department for specialized advice. 

Seek out apprenticeship programs that are committed to diversity and inclusion. Some unions and trade associations, like the National Black Contractors Association (NBCA), have initiatives specifically designed to recruit and support POC. The U.S. Department of Labor also offers resources to connect individuals with apprenticeship opportunities, providing a pathway into the trades. 

Engaging in networking and professional development is equally important. Joining professional associations, attending industry conferences, and participating in networking events targeted at POC can provide valuable educational resources and connections to potential employers or sponsors. You may even find a valuable mentor who can give personalized advice on succeeding in your trade.

Succeeding as a POC In the Skilled Trades

Success in the skilled trades hinges on more than just hard work and talent. It requires strategic navigation through industry networks, a commitment to lifelong learning, and a willingness to uplift others in your community. Here are some tips for not just surviving but thriving in your trade.

Building a Professional Network

A study done by Zippia reported that almost 85% of jobs are filled through networking. A wide professional network can be the key to upward mobility and happiness in your career. Establishing solid relationships with fellow tradespeople and industry professionals opens doors to support, advice, and opportunities that might not be accessible through traditional channels.

To build this network, attend professional events aimed at your industry, and don’t be shy about chatting up strangers. Also, don’t forget that social media is a great place to build relationships with people in your industry.

This includes remaining active on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, which can give people immediate insight into your career and skills. These relationships enrich your career and strengthen the broader community of POC in the trades.

Advancing Your Skills and Uptraining

In the age of AI and smart homes, whatever your industry is, you’re likely seeing some significant change. To stay competitive as a trades worker, you have to stay up-to-date on the trends and skills that are in demand.

Seeking advanced training opportunities, such as specialized certifications or upskilling, can significantly enhance your marketability and job prospects. 

This commitment to uptraining positions you as a valuable asset within your current role. It also opens pathways to higher-level positions and specialized fields that offer better compensation and job security.

Many organizations and trade unions offer resources for continuing education, including workshops, seminars, and courses designed to advance your skills. Taking advantage of these opportunities demonstrates a dedication to your craft and a proactive approach to career development, qualities that are highly valued in the trades.

“Success in the skilled trades hinges on more than just hard work and talent. It requires strategic navigation through industry networks, a commitment to lifelong learning, and a willingness to uplift others in your community.”

Mentoring Other POC In Your Community

Once you’ve established yourself in your trade, it’s time to extend the ladder to others. Mentoring people of color in your community is one of the most fulfilling ways to network and advance your career.

By sharing your knowledge, experiences, and insights, you can play a pivotal role in guiding newcomers through the complexities of the trade, helping them to navigate barriers and seize opportunities.

Mentoring can take many forms, from formal apprenticeship programs to informal guidance and support. The benefits of this engagement extend beyond the individuals involved, contributing to the creation of a more diverse, skilled, and resilient workforce.

As mentors, you help individuals succeed and contribute to building a community within the trades that values diversity, supports growth, and champions the contributions of POC. This cycle of mentorship and support is crucial for breaking down barriers and ensuring that the trades are accessible and welcoming to everyone, now and in the future.

Asian man home building services worker

Going Your Own Way: Entrepreneurship in the Skilled Trades

For many POC in the skilled trades, entrepreneurship presents a compelling path to overcome systemic barriers. It also allows you to capitalize on the unique strengths and perspectives you bring to the industry.

Entrepreneurship allows for greater control over your career, the opportunity to directly impact the community, and the potential to address unmet needs in the market. It’s a pathway that offers both financial independence and the chance to create a legacy that paves the way for future generations of POC in the trades.

Learning to Run a Business

Transitioning from skilled tradesperson to business owner requires a broadened skill set that extends beyond the tools of the trade. Understanding the basics of business operations, such as managing finances, navigating legal requirements, crafting employee handbooks, and developing a business plan, is crucial.

Financial management, including budgeting, pricing your services, and managing cash flow, forms the backbone of a successful business. Additionally, you must familiarize yourself with the legal aspects of running a business, including obtaining the necessary licenses, registering your business, and understanding tax obligations.

Building a solid business plan is fundamental. This plan should outline your business goals, target market, competition, marketing strategies, and financial projections. For POC in the trades looking to start their own business, there are a number of resources available. Small Business Administration (SBA) offices, local business development centers, and trade associations offer guidance and support tailored to new entrepreneurs.

Marketing Your POC-Owned Busines

Once you start a business, you have to let people know it exists. Marketing your trade business effectively is easier than you may think.

In digital marketing, establishing a compelling online presence is crucial. This means having a professional website that looks great and clearly communicates what you offer and why you’re the best choice.

Think of your website as your digital storefront—it’s often the first impression potential clients will have of your business, so it’s worth investing in quality design and content that reflects your brand and values.

Active engagement on social media platforms can significantly boost your visibility. Whether your account showcases your latest projects, shares insights from your trade, or highlights customer testimonials, social media is a powerful tool to build your brand and connect with existing and potential clients. It’s also a space to express your business’s diversity and how it shapes your work ethic and outcomes.

Targeted online advertising is another strategy to help you reach specific demographics or clients looking for your services. By focusing your ads on platforms where your potential clients spend their time, you can increase the likelihood of converting views into viable leads

Creating Change and Advocating for Other POC

As a person of color in the skilled trades, your journey to success is not just about personal achievement but also about paving the way for more inclusivity and diversity within your industry.

Your experiences, challenges, and victories equip you with a unique perspective that can drive meaningful change for yourself and future generations of POC tradespeople.

Here’s how you can make a significant impact:

Join Industry Boards and Committees

One of the most effective ways to advocate for change is by taking on leadership roles where decisions are made. Joining boards, committees, or councils within your trade can provide a platform to influence policies, practices, and culture.

These positions allow you to bring diversity to the forefront of conversations, ensuring that issues affecting POC tradespeople are addressed. By being part of these groups, you can advocate for initiatives such as diversity training, equitable hiring practices, and support programs for POC entering the trades.

Participate in Trade Associations

Trade associations are crucial in shaping the industry’s standards and practices. Active participation in these organizations offers another avenue to advocate for inclusivity and diversity.

You can engage in discussions, contribute to newsletters or blogs, and participate in panels or workshops focused on diversity. Through these actions, you raise awareness and help create a more inclusive environment that values and promotes diversity at all levels.

Engage in Community Outreach

Supporting the next generation of POC tradespeople is vital for creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. Community outreach allows you to connect with young people who might not see the trades as a viable or welcoming career path.

This can involve visiting schools to speak about your experiences, offering workshops or demonstrations, or participating in career fairs targeted at underrepresented communities. By sharing your journey and the opportunities available in the trades, you can inspire and encourage more POC to pursue these careers.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship has the power to transform lives. By mentoring POC who are new to the trades or considering a career in this field, you provide them with valuable guidance, support, and encouragement.

Mentorship can help navigate the challenges unique to POC in the trades, from dealing with discrimination to finding opportunities for advancement. Establishing or participating in mentorship programs within your trade association, company, or community can create a supportive network that empowers the next generation of tradespeople.

People of color in construction service trades

Resources for POC in the Skilled Trades

Educational and Training Programs

National Urban League’s Urban Tech Jobs Program (UTJP)

The UTJP is an accelerated technology training program that is specifically designed for unemployed and underemployed urban residents, including POC. The program focuses on creating pathways for adults to enter the IT and technology-related fields, which are increasingly important in various trades.

The National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC)

While NAMC is primarily an advocacy group, it also offers various educational and training resources for minority contractors. Their programs aim to enhance the growth and development of minority-owned businesses in the construction industry.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Diversity & Inclusion Programs

ABC offers various programs and initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion within the construction industry. This includes training programs, scholarships, and mentorship opportunities to support POC entering and advancing within the trades.

YouthBuild USA

YouthBuild programs are dedicated to helping low-income young people learn construction skills through building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people. Many YouthBuild students are POC, and the program focuses on leadership development, community service, and job skills.

Tradeswomen, Inc.

Although specifically targeting women in the trades, Tradeswomen, Inc. has initiatives that support POC women entering non-traditional roles, including construction and other skilled trades. Their programs include pre-apprenticeship training, advocacy, and mentorship.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

UNCF Scholarships

UNCF offers a variety of scholarships for African American students, including those pursuing careers in the trades. These scholarships can help cover the costs of vocational education, apprenticeships, and other trade-related educational programs.

Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF)

HSF offers scholarships to Hispanic and Latino students, including those enrolling in vocational and trade schools. These scholarships support students of Hispanic heritage in obtaining the education and training needed for their chosen careers.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Scholarships

AISES offers scholarships to American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students pursuing degrees and certifications in STEM fields, including those related to the skilled trades.

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation Work Ethic Scholarship Program

While not exclusively for POC, this program supports students who are pursuing a career in the skilled trades. It focuses on those who have demonstrated a strong work ethic and a commitment to their trade education.

NAWIC Founders’ Scholarship Foundation (National Association of Women in Construction)

This foundation offers scholarships to support women, including POC women, who are interested in pursuing careers in construction and other trades. The scholarships aim to promote diversity and inclusion within the construction industry.

Professional Networks and Associations

National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC)

NAMC is dedicated to developing minority-owned businesses in the construction industry. It offers networking opportunities, educational programs, and advocacy efforts to support minority contractors in navigating the industry’s challenges.

National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

NAWIC provides its members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, and public service. While it supports women in construction, it also advocates for the broader inclusion of underrepresented groups, including POC.

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)

SHPE promotes Hispanic representation in the engineering and technology sectors, offering support that can also benefit those in technical and skilled trades. The organization provides resources for professional development, networking events, and mentorship.

Business Development and Entrepreneurial Support

Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA)

Part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the MBDA is the only federal agency created specifically to foster the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises. It offers a wide range of services, including business consulting, financial assistance, and market opportunities.

SCORE

SCORE provides free business mentoring and education to entrepreneurs and small business owners, including POC. It’s a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and has volunteers from various business backgrounds. SCORE also offers specialized resources and mentorship for minority-owned businesses.

Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) Business Development Program

Specifically designed for small disadvantaged businesses, the SBA’s 8(a) program offers a wide range of assistance, including business development support, mentoring, and access to government contracting opportunities.

Black Business Association (BBA)

The BBA is dedicated to developing and creating business opportunities for Black-owned businesses. Through advocacy, education, and networking, the BBA provides tools for growth and sustainability.

The Latino Coalition

This organization offers a comprehensive suite of legislative, regulatory, and international initiative advocacy, as well as business development programs and services to support Latino and other minority entrepreneurs.

National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)

While NAWBO represents women entrepreneurs across all sectors, it provides valuable resources, networks, and advocacy for women of color in the trades, helping them navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship.

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