Eva Tlalolini doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer.
But crouched on one knee with a spray gun trained on the bumper of a pickup truck at Rockland BOCES, Tlalolini is a rarity.
The 18-year-old Airmont student has her eye on a career in the automotive collision trade — an industry in which less than 4% of the technicians are women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Suffern High School student found her passion for detailed paintworking through the Career and Technical Education Center at BOCES’ West Nyack campus. She recently won a medal at the Regional SkillsUSA competition.
“It opened so many doors for me,” Tlalolini said in the paint shop one mid-March morning. She credited Sal Cappiello, her automotive collision technology instructor, as the one who “pushed me forward to painting, and that’s when I fell in love with it.”
Rockland BOCES celebrated “Women in Trades” in March by highlighting students like Tlalolini who are enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that are traditionally male dominated, including automotive technology and collision, welding, and carpentry.
Inspiring female students to get involved in non-traditional career paths can help fill staggering vacancies in skilled trades across the country while addressing the underrepresentation of women in those trades, said Kim Bell, executive director of the Rockland BOCES CTE Center.
“We see there’s a great opportunity in the trades for good pay and hands-on work, if that’s what they’re interested in,” Bell said. “There’s a need in the trades for more employees. And we feel that the right women can fill those gaps.”
Elsewhere in BOCES’ automotive department, Zitlali Garcia displayed the results of an engine swap on a red Honda compact. The auto technology student from River Edge, New Jersey, chose to study engine and air conditioning partially because of her independent streak.
“I didn’t want to be stuck on the side of the road and to depend on someone to come and get me out of it,” said Garcia, 18, a River Dell High School senior.
What was it like being the only female student in her class?
“My first year, last year, it definitely did feel a little bit intimidating because you’re surrounded by a bunch of guys,” Garcia said. “But then afterwards, everyone kind of accepted me and my teachers were supportive. All my teachers have treated me very much equal to the rest of the males in the classroom, and now I’m not intimidated. I just go with the flow.”
If her experience encourages more women to become auto mechanics, that’s fine with her.
“Especially because I’m Hispanic — you’ve always been underestimated,” Garcia said. “Being in this field, I feel like I just want to be something to look up to, kind of to see, ‘This girl did it, she’s very diverse, I can do it.’”
Bell said interest in CTE among young women has been on the upswing. “We’re starting to market our programs at an earlier age, as are counselors in our school districts.”
But are employers, and customers, ready to hire them?
“I think so,” Bell said. “The stereotype exists, and people are used to seeing men that dominate the field. I think it’s changing a little. Not fast enough for what I’d like to see, but I think it will change and slowly you will see more and more women in the trades.”
She added: “Women successfully filled trades positions during World War II, when men were at war, so we do have a history of success in these fields.”
Lyanna Wilcox came to the CTE program looking for a break from traditional high school and found herself in welding class when her first choice — carpentry — was full. A year and a half later, the Suffern High School senior fused metalwork with her artistic talents to begin forging a career path in sculpture and set design. In March, she was building an alien abduction scene out of steel for an upcoming SkillsUSA competition.
Last year, Wilcox was the only female in welding class, but this year several other young women enrolled. It’s a trade that can use more women: Only 5% of welding, soldering, and brazing workers are female.
She encouraged others to give it a try, even if the prospect of working with an oxyacetylene torch didn’t initially sound appealing. “If they don’t even know if they’re interested, why not give it a shot?” Wilcox said. “That’s how I was. It’s really just something that you never know.”
Students recognized during “Women in Trades” month:
- Elizabeth Lawrence, East Ramapo
- Zitlali Garcia, River Dell
- Vallery Huerta Posadas, North Rockland
- Lorelai Lobbe, North Rockland
- Natalie Bidmead, South Orangetown
- Eva Tlalolini, Suffern Central
- Guliana Gutierrez, North Rockland
- Ninoska Leon, Suffern Central
- Ann McEvoy, Nanuet
- Lyanna Wilcox, Suffern Central