When Summer Gibson arrived at the Trapper Creek Job Corps, she had dreams of learning the skills she would need to make a living working in the woods through the center’s natural resources program.
By the time she graduated, Gibson was an expert in working with not only wood, but a whole host of other building materials as well.
“The natural resources program was full when she first arrived,” remembers Dan Johnson, the center’s carpentry instructor. “The carpentry program wasn’t. We ended up taking her into our program as a hold while waiting for a spot to open in the other program.”
That willingness to try something different changed Gibson’s life and now could open doors for other young women looking to find work in a field that has traditionally been done by men.
Gibson was recently awarded Job Corps' annual Better Occupational Opportunities for Tradeswomen (BOOT) Award in a ceremony at the Trapper Creek Job Corps Center.
In a letter announcing the selection, Lenita Jacobs-Simons, the Office of Job Corps national director, said the selection committee believed Gibson exemplified the award's qualifications of strength, courage, aptitude and a commitment to a career in a nontraditional trade.
“Your sustained commitment to excellence, hard work and outstanding performance are breaking gender-based boundaries and paving the way for other females to have similar experiences in the construction trades,” Jacobs-Simons wrote. “On behalf of the Office of Job Corps, I am proud to recognize your accomplishments and to wish you continued success in your chosen profession. Thank you for being a Job Corps trailblazer.”
When Gibson made the decision to stick with Trapper Creek's carpentry program, Johnson said she didn’t do anything at the center half-heartedly.
“She ended up just killing it in our program,” he said. “What’s really cool about Summer is that she has this really good work ethic and lots of drive. Beyond that, she had a willingness to go out on a limb and try things that were way out of her comfort zone.”
One of his favorite examples came during scaffolding erection training at the center.
“She was so afraid of heights that she had to get on her hands and knees to get the job done,” Johnson said. “But she did it and then ended up finding a job working on a bridge crew at Hungry Horse where she had to deal with heights every day. You could tell she had made a good career move.
“There aren’t a lot of people who (will) do things that are out of their comfort zone,” he said. “That was never a problem for her.”
In his nomination letter, Johnson said Gibson’s leadership went far beyond her accomplishments in the carpentry shop. She was made dorm chief and elected president of the student government association. She was one of a handful of students selected to carry a gold card that ranks students behavior and sets privileges.
“It wasn’t just her excellence in trade that made Summer stand out,” said Trapper Creek Job Corps Center Director Jesse Casterson. “Everything Summer did was with excellence and she did not accept anything but the best of herself and of others.”
Shortly after graduating in September 2017, Gibson was hired as an apprentice carpenter to work on a bridge contract. The position started at $17.96 an hour. Within six months, Sletten Construction rewarded Gibson’s hard work and raised her salary to $22.99 an hour.
Bureau of Labor statistics show that wages of construction workers often outpace many occupations that are more commonly considered for females.
Johnson knows the road won’t be easy for women like Gibson who decide on a career path in the construction industry.
“Summer has entered a world full of stubborn old men,” he said. “It is hard enough, as a young man, to be a new apprentice; working with people who don’t yet know if you’ll be able to be make it, and even worse, who sometimes don’t want to see you make it.
“As a young woman breaking into our field, I feel like Summer has probably already had to prove herself more than I ever did in order to get accepted,” Johnson wrote. “Unfortunately, she will likely have to start over and prove herself time and time again, on every different job site, with every different crew, until her reputation spreads throughout the company.
“While this is unfortunate, it is women like Summer who will make it easier for the next female apprentice to come behind her and hopefully continue to grow the reputation of, and the respect for, the women who choose to become carpenters.”
Johnson said he looked forward to her asking him for students to come work "as high-paid, union carpenter apprentices — for her.''