Southern New Jersey native Edith Clayton is considered “the handy one” of her six siblings. The 43-year-old Air Force veteran grew up working with her hands, always fixing and assembling things.
A wife of eight years, the mother of three routinely puts her skills to good use. In January 2016, Edith flew into action to help her nine-year-old daughter in her struggle to keep her bedroom tidy. A project that began as a simple bookshelf turned instead into a redesigned room with a handcrafted bookcase, desk, underbed shelf and bench lining the wall. All done in just three weeks. “Each day, I woke up elated with endless energy,” Edith recalls.
Little did she know, but that same passion would lead to bigger things.
In January 2016, Edith was ready to return to work a year after she earned her master’s degree in human resource administration in late 2014. She turned to the Burlington County American Job Center for help with her resume. The center is one of the nearly 2,500 centers nationwide funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration to help people search for jobs, find training and answer other employment-related questions.
At the center she noticed a flyer seeking applicants for the “Women in Sustainable Employment” program. WISE leads women to explore careers in non-traditional industries, learn strategies in conflict management, team-building and workplace expectations. Encouraged by the center’s veterans’ representative, Edith applied just days before the program’s next two-week course started in March 2016.
Through the program she met Sue Schultz, a union rep with the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters who told Edith about the “Sisters in the Brotherhood,” a program to increase the number of women among union carpenters. SITB was offering the first all female pre-apprenticeship program. Once completed, participants were eligible for union membership with the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters. Edith jumped at the chance. After a physical, a drug test, some work-related tests and an interview, she was selected.
In May 2016, she began a five-week, 200-hour training program. It included drywall installation, conflict resolution, a 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration course, aerial lift training and power-tool operation. Program participants also visited job sites and networked. “The program prepared me to stand alongside my counterparts as a strong contender, ensuring the future of this trade and the union,” said Edith.
A few weeks into the pre-apprenticeship program, she was asked to speak about her experience at an open house for educators and supporters. She impressed a project manager with Epic Construction, an area company, who later contacted the school and said they’d like to have Edith work for the company.
Three weeks later – after being sworn in to the union – carpenter’s apprentice Edith Clayton went to work with Epic in June 2016. “In the beginning, I wasn’t fully committed to carpentry, but the acceptance and the offer of employment really changed everything,” she said. “Soon, I was out there. I was working and I was loving it.”
Her time with Epic ended in October 2016 – as work slowed with the changing seasons. Since then, she has remained on the work wait list, eager to get back on the job. In the meantime, she is reading and studying to expand her knowledge of the carpentry trade.
When her apprenticeship ends in five years, Edith plans to teach others about her trade. Her endless energy is evident as she talks about her future. “Teaching is my true gift,” she said. “My goal is to build an organization that teaches individuals self-sufficiency and enables them to be empowered on every level of spirit, soul, and body.”