Series shows STEM jobs not 'only for men'

Picture a diesel technician.

Picture a construction foreman.

Picture a welder.

Picture any women?

Likely not, but that's something workNet DuPage is trying to change.

"It's these old images that need to be rebooted," says Lisa Schvach, director of the agency's DuPage County Workforce Development Division.

The regional job-training organization is beginning a series of career exploration events called Breaking Boundaries to introduce women in need of career direction to well-paying positions in viable - but nontraditional - fields.

The second event in the series is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Friday, Nov. 17, at Universal Technical Institute, 2611 Corporate West Drive, Lisle.

It will feature panelists from the automotive, diesel, utility and information technology fields, as well as employer booths, hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering and math, and a tour of the UTI campus.

"What we want to do is have a blend of occupations so that women who are attending can see all types of opportunities that they most likely never considered," Schvach said.

The target audience is women who are "lacking any defined career," Schvach said. Many of these women, she said, are single mothers who tend to flock to the same fields, such as restaurant service and entry-level health care, where wages are low and opportunities for advancement are scarce.

"They don't pay as much as traditionally male jobs," Schvach said. "They don't offer as much growth potential as traditionally male jobs."

In fact, the median family income for single moms in DuPage County was $32,544 in 2015, while for single dads it was $66,901, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator.

Workforce development professionals want women to know that jobs in industries such as manufacturing, technology and automotives often pay more - and they're in high demand.

Manufacturing companies in DuPage with "big, clean, high-tech" facilities are turning down contracts because they lack the staff to complete the work, Schvach said. Car manufacturers are in need of thousands of technicians, said Julie Mueller, campus president of UTI in Lisle, making the field as lucrative as ever in the past two decades.

"There's such a shortage," Mueller said. "Employers' biggest fear is filling the open positions."

Women might hear about an automotive technician job and think it'd involve a lot of heavy lifting.

"The physicality of it is a big deterrent for women," Schvach said. "It shouldn't be, in many cases."

Fixing cars is one of those cases.

"It's not physical like it used to be with the changes in technology," Mueller said. "It's more mental. It's critical thinking. It's diagnostics. It's computer technology and electronics."

Attendees to the free Breaking Boundaries event will hear from a woman who is a supervisor at UPS after starting there as a diesel technician, a woman who works for Nicor, and other professional women in the utility and IT fields. Mueller said their stories will create an "if they can do it, I can do it" effect among participants as they search for a career - instead of just a job.

"One of the biggest deterrents from women entering the skilled trades or the STEM fields is just the perception challenge out there that it's only for men," Mueller said. "It's not."

Women, career counselors or other influencers who would like to attend the session are asked to register by calling (630) 955-2067 or emailing

The Breaking Boundaries series launched a Facebook page at after the first event Sept. 29 at the College of DuPage, which drew about 50 participants.

The third event in the series is likely to be in February or March.

  Universal Technical Institute students Veronica Anderson and Denise Soto work together on a vibration diagnostics test in a Ford facts class at the trade school in Lisle, which has about 3 percent females among a student body of roughly 2,000. Bev Horne/
  Julie Mueller, president of the Lisle campus for Universal Technical Institute, says automotive technician jobs are in high demand and are great work for women because technology has changed the duties from physical to largely technical, diagnostic and mental. Daniel White/, NOVEMBER 2013
Participants in workNet DuPage's first Breaking Boundaries career exploration event for women in September see a finished product created by a 3-D printer in the machine shop at the College of DuPage. Courtesy of Worknet DuPage
About 50 women, including career seekers and high school job counselors, attended the first event in the Breaking Boundaries career exploration series for women created by workNet DuPage. The event included panelists from manufacturing, construction and skilled trades. Courtesy of Worknet DuPage
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