Universal Technical Institute and IGNITE Worldwide have come together to advance the participation and advancement of women in the skilled trades.
On Sept. 24, UTI’s Avondale campus hosted the first of more than a dozen events planned at UTI campuses nationwide over the next year.
The event was an interactive opportunity for Phoenix-area female or female-identifying high school seniors and their families to learn more about the careers available in the transportation sector and other skilled trades.
“These girls typically have not had any support or encouragement or information prior about any of these careers,” said Cathi Rodgveller, IGNITE Worldwide chief executive officer and founder.
“Career technical education classes are extremely low enrollment, except if you’re talking about family consumer science or more traditional careers for women. These are nontraditional careers for women, meaning they’re less than 25% female represented. That’s why we need to provide this encouragement and inspiration at these events so the girls don’t miss opportunities when they’re young.”
The event included an interactive campus tour; hands-on, project-based training exercises; and a panel discussion featuring prominent leaders from across Arizona’s transportation sector and other skilled trades.
While the goal was to provide female students with the opportunity and information to enter the field, Rodgveller said the event is meant to combat the underrepresentation of women in STEM by making them feel welcomed and confident in their abilities.
“UTI is a great example. They have wonderful colleges all over the country, and the number of women that typically apply are very low, and it’s really a symbol of how we don’t help girls and women understand why these careers could be exciting for them and why they might enjoy them,” Rodgveller said.
Research by McKinsey and Harvard Business School has found that gender-diverse employers tend to be more productive and exhibit stronger financial performance relative to their nondiverse competitors. However, women represent just over 1 in 4 STEM workers.
Workforce demand in the transportation sector is significant nationwide, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating there are approximately 100,000 new openings each year for automotive, diesel and collision repair technicians.
“Employers are constantly looking for more automotive and diesel technicians, certified welders, and other trained workers in the skilled trades,” Universal Technical Institute CEO Jerome Grant said. “Women have traditionally been underrepresented in these sectors, but that’s something we’re eager to address with IGNITE Worldwide by raising awareness about the career opportunities available across the skilled trades and STEM fields.”
Since the first IGNITE event in 2000, more than 100,000 girls have participated in the award-winning IGNITE Program, which has experienced growth year after year as word spreads of the impact events have on its students, teachers and volunteers.
Rodgveller said the most impactful moments of the events are the panels in which women in the field speak to young women about their journey.
“All of these different obstacles where girls tend to count themselves out even before they start. So the women, they open themselves up and open their hearts and become vulnerable to tell their story so the girls really understand that these career paths are for them and for anyone that just doesn’t give up on themselves, doesn’t count themselves out,” Rodgveller said.
“These are life-changing experiences for girls. They have never heard women’s stories before or understood what these career choices are about. And that changes everything for girls. They need to see role models. They need to see women who look like them who have picked a career that they’re really inspired about and hear from the women why these careers are exciting for them, because there’s a certain percentage of girls out there who really would like to be in the skilled trades. But in this country in general we don’t do a good job helping them get there.”
Additionally, as part of the education partnership, UTI is providing the following tuition grants, which can be used toward UTI programs at any of its 12 campuses located across Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas: a $25,000 grant, a $15,000 grant, a $10,000 grant and 22 $2,000 grants.
Any female or female-identifying high school senior who attends an on-site or virtual IGNITE Worldwide event will be eligible to apply for a grant by completing an application and submitting a brief essay. The scholarship application will open in October.
As a woman in the field herself, Andrea Lane said it’s events like the one hosted by UTI that will help the underrepresentation of women in the field.
“Being able to come to UTI and to do these events and let people know and understand the opportunities that are available is very important to me. The amount of positions that we have open in a dealership are kind of just crazy. I don’t think people really think about them as much,” said Lane, conference and events manager for Larry H. Miller.
“There’s just so much that’s available, and being able to come and talk to people, especially the women, and let them know that these positions exist and that they 100% could do them and there they would do well at them. I want them to know you can do it and you can really make a life and really make a career for yourself in this industry as a woman.”
For more information about Universal Technical Institute, visit uti.edu. For more information about IGNITE Worldwide and its events, visit