In May 2014, Minnesota passed the Women’s Economic Security Act (“WESA”), a law intended to strengthen workplace protections for pregnant and nursing women, expand employment opportunities for high-wage and high-demand jobs, and reduce the gender pay gap through the increased enforcement of equal pay laws. WESA also includes the implementation of grant programs to: (1) increase the number of women in high-pay, high-demand, nontraditional jobs; (2) develop programs to encourage women to start businesses in high-growth, high-revenue industry sectors; and (3) encourage women in apprenticeships in high-pay, high-demand, nontraditional occupations. As you will see below, significant progress has been made in placing women in high-pay, high-demand, non-traditional occupations.
Increase the Number of Women in High-Pay, High-Demand, Nontraditional Jobs
One of the primary goals of WESA is to increase the number of women in high-pay, high-demand, non-traditional jobs. Section 3, subdivision 2 of WESA provides that “[t]he commissioner shall establish the women and high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs grant program to increase the number of women in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional occupations. The commissioner shall make grants to eligible organizations for programs that encourage and assist women to enter high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional occupations including but not limited to those in the skilled trades, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations.” Section 7 of WESA allocates $500,000.00 to the commission of employment and economic development to develop and implement the women and high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs grant program.
In December 2014, the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development awarded grants totaling $475,000.00 to eight organizations pursuant to Sections 3 and 7 of WESA. The allocations were as follows:
- Goodwill-Easter Seals of Minnesota, St. Paul $72,450.00;
- YWCA of St. Paul $72,450.00;
- Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis $72,450.00;
- YWCA of Minneapolis $13,500.00;
- Lake Superior College, Duluth $63,500.00;
- Central Minnesota Jobs and Training, Monticello $36,300.00;
- Workforce Development Inc., Rochester $71,900.00; and
- White Earth Indian Reservation, White Earth $72,450.00.
Through the eight organizations, an estimated 2,300 women, 65 girls, and 270 professionals will receive training that is structured to eliminate the barriers and stereotypes that affect women in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional jobs. Further, the organizations will provide approximately 180 women with training for nontraditional jobs.
Develop Programs to Encourage Women to Start Businesses in High-Growth, High-Revenue Industry Sectors
Another important goal of WESA is to develop programs to encourage women to start businesses in high-growth, high-revenue industry sectors. Section 8 of WESA provides that “$500,00 in fiscal year 2015 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for grants to Women Venture and the Women’s Business Center of Northeastern Minnesota at the Northeast Entrepreneurial Fund to facilitate and promote the creation and expansion of women-owned businesses in Minnesota.” WESA limited the use of the grant funds for (1) entrepreneurial training, mentoring, and technical assistance for the startup or expansion of eligible women-owned businesses; (2) development of networks of potential investors for eligible women-owned businesses; (3) development of outreach activities and recruitment programs for midcareer women with an interest in starting eligible women-owned businesses; and (4) compilation, development, and dissemination of resources, information, and technical assistance on best practices and model programs that may be replicated on a statewide basis.
In July 2014, WomenVenture in the Twin Cities and The Entrepreneur Fund based in Duluth each received a $250,000.00 grant. The funds awarded to WomenVenuture were used, at least in part, to fund its Scale Up! Twin Cities program, which provides 31 weeks of entrepreneurial training, financial management tools, and one-on-one coaching, as well as capital for business expansion. The funds awarded to The Entrepreneur Fund launched IGNITE, which is a program that links 15-20 women-owned businesses to resources that include expert consulting, networking events, and skills workshops.
Encourage Women in Apprenticeships in High-Pay, High-Demand, Nontraditional Occupations
Additionally, WESA’s grant program was enacted to encourage women in apprenticeships in high-pay, high-demand, nontraditional occupations. Section 9 of WESA provides in relevant part that “$250,000 is appropriated from the workforce development fund in fiscal year 2015 to the commission of labor and industry for the labor education advancement program under Minnesota Statutes, section 178.11, to educate, promote, assist, and support women to enter apprenticeship programs in high-wage, high-demand, nontraditional occupations.”
In 2015, four grants totaling $250,00.00 were awarded to The Construction Careers Foundation, The Association of Women Contractors, Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/Big Step, and Summit Academy, OIC. After receiving these grants, the organizations have enhanced their already existing programs or created new opportunities for apprenticeships in high-pay, high-demand, nontraditional occupations. For example, The Construction Careers Foundation graduated 18 women and placed four women into pipefitting and electrical trades, the WRPT partnered with The Construction Careers Foundation to provide mentors for each new apprentice, as well financial support in the form of bus cards, gas cards, and other assistance, The Association of Women Contractors awarded scholarships to four women in apprenticeships and created a group of women business owners who are dedicated to mentoring new apprentices for a period of 18 months, and lastly, Summit Academy, OIC continues to grow its program, Women Wear Hard Hats Too.
As you can see, there has already been significant progress in placing and encouraging women in high-pay, high-demand, nontraditional occupations. In addition to the grants discussed above, there are other grant options available to encourage women in business and women-owned businesses.
Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota employment law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their employment law attorneys can be reached at 612.455.0500.