News & Updates

News & Updates

All-Female Cohort Boasts 100% Graduation Rate

A group of 13 dedicated and supportive mothers, sisters, daughters and friends recently made history as graduates of the first all-female class in ValleyBuild history.

 Thirteen women started and completed the first-ever all-female ValleyBuild training class.

Ceremonies on Sept. 30 in Clovis honored graduates with in-person and videotaped speeches, certificates and special recognition for perfect attendance and leadership awards, for example. The class was congratulated by government and elected officials along with ValleyBuild, building trades and other representatives.   

Several speakers and graduates recognized the camaraderie among classmates and the historic nature of the all-female cohort ValleyBuild NOW (Non-traditional Occupations for Women).

The eight-week class – the 36th in Fresno since 2013 and the 50th in the Central Valley overall – boasted a 100% graduation rate. Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, highlighted the commitment and close-knit nature of the graduates.

“Others have beaten a path before you, and if you follow it and if you are diligent – as I know you are – you’ll have success,” he said, adding that their success helps attract more funding for such MC3 Apprenticeship Readiness Programs.

Chuck Riojas, financial secretary/treasurer of the Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, said he has never seen a better climate for work than today. Several speakers highlighted the billions of dollars set aside to fund public infrastructure projects in the region over the next decade.

“The opportunities are there and they are tremendous” he said.

Diana Gomez, District 6 Director at Caltrans, talked about her experiences in the male-dominated engineering program at Fresno State and then working in another male-dominated organization. She plugged Caltrans and its employment opportunities and encouraged graduates to “seize the moment:”

Building Trades official Chuck Riojas (third from left) stands with apprentice coordinators and union representatives (left to right) Robert Topete, Justin Barnard, James Hammond, Isaac Camarena and Frank Bedolla.

In her speech, graduate Crystal Wiggins – who was recognized for passing the IBEW test — traced her path to the ValleyBuild NOW program. After signing up for the training, she was forced to choose between her job at an animal shelter and the class.

She took the leap of faith. “I knew I was on the right path,” Wiggins said. “What is life if we are not growing, challenging ourselves to be better?”

Dubbed the “Swiss Army Knife” in class, Wiggins said the students built a family and “together, we will help lead the future women into the trades.”

Graduate Katrina Bridges, who signed up for the class with her best friend Raquel Pizana, faced the tragic loss of her grandfather during the training program. She was his fulltime caregiver prior to enrolling.

She talked about being introduced to the sheet metal trade and her eagerness to show her grandfather the toolbox she made. When he passed, she wasn’t sure she could get to class the next day.

But he always taught her to keep going, so Bridges persevered. Each woman in the program faced her own challenges, she said, but each one “conquered their own battles while also supporting each other and me and mine.”

The toolbox, she said, represents her supportive grandparents and family, the battles of each graduate and the tools they now have to succeed. “It’s for the women before us and the women after us,” Bridges said.

Noting the historic nature of the first all-female class, she closed by quoting the singer Lizzo: “It’s about damn time!”