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Building women’s skills in North Carolina

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

Photo credit : Hope Renovations

Men do most construction trade jobs in North Carolina. But when Nora El-Khouri Spencer became a homeowner, she discovered the joy of do-it-yourself projects. It helped her save money, and it gave her an immense feeling of satisfaction. 

As her skills improved, she began working on small renovations alongside contractors and tradespeople. “As a woman, something about doing it myself was particularly rewarding,” she says. “However, as I expanded my skills, I began to wonder… where were all the women?” 

In North Carolina, women represent only 4 per cent of the construction industry.1 As a self-taught tradeswoman, Nora was frustrated with the opportunity gap that existed for women. She believed that helping more women gain access to the construction industry could help her entire community. Greater female labour participation in the sector would help address the workforce shortage and give women a better chance of earning enough to rise out of poverty. 

Nora set up a not-for-profit organisation called Hope Renovations, which offers a training programme that meets two needs in the region. First, it helps women build careers in construction by offering them free training. Second, the women carry out the training by building projects that help the elderly age safely in their own homes, such as ramps, walk-in showers, and rails in bathrooms. 

Trainees get hands-on education in the basics of carpentry, electricity, and plumbing, and receive on-the-job experience alongside Hope Renovations’ professional construction crew. “I figured it made a lot of sense to put them all together,” says Nora. “This will help women get the skills they need to enter into construction careers and get out of low-wage jobs, and at the same time, give seniors a dedicated workforce to complete the repairs and renovations they need to stay in their homes.” 

Since July 2020, Hope Renovations has provided free skills training to over 60 women and non-binary individuals, 70 per cent of whom have gone on to jobs in the construction trades. During this time, Hope Renovations has carried out more than 180 home repair projects, the majority of which are low- or no-cost. Recently, Hope Renovations began offering stipends to trainees, followed by a paid internship. 

Trainees also receive support to address barriers to employment, training in professional skills and career readiness, career coaching, and connections to employers, apprenticeships, and further education opportunities. “Now, I’m a carpenter!” says one trainee participant. “It blows my mind that I am making so much money from one job – it’s such a good feeling.” 

This grant falls under Oak Foundation’s Special Interest Programme, which covers a wide range of fields, including environment, health, humanitarian relief, education, and the arts. You can find out more about the programme and its strategy by clicking here. To find out more about Hope Renovations, check out its website by clicking here.