Girls on the job

Construction event seeks to interest girls in construction trades

Posted on Aug 1, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Ava Goss has no problem getting a little dirty.

The eighth-grader from St. Mary Catholic Middle School was one of 30 girls from middle and high schools around the New North region who took part in Miron Construction Co., Inc.’s Build Like a Girl event. Whether it was laying bricks, creating a concrete form or erecting a steel frame, Goss seldom hesitated to get in and get involved.

Whether that becomes more than a one-day experience or a potential career path remains undecided.

“My grandfather is a carpenter and it just seems interesting,” Goss says. “It was great just to be able to experience it.”

That’s the positive reaction organizers at Miron were hoping for when they put together the inaugural event for area students.

Women comprise about 2.6 percent of the construction industry nationally. They are better represented in other traditional male fields such as firefighting, where women make up more than 3.5 percent of the workforce.

With the industry already facing a labor shortage — expected to get worse as more baby boomers retire — leaving as much as 50 percent of the potential workforce on the sidelines is no longer an option.

“We’ve got to reach out to them at younger ages and let them know this is not just a male-driven industry,” says Lindsey DeWitt, a human resources professional with Miron. “We need to change mindsets. There are perceptions that “it’s just building things” when there are so many different opportunities in the industry.”

Building, though, was the emphasis of the day, and all around the temporary job site created adjacent to Miron’s headquarters, there were women mentors working on active job sites as masons, carpenters, ironworkers and crane operators.

Many of those women command a higher salary than their male counterparts, writes Dave Walsh, vice president of leadership and organizational development at Miron. Female construction laborers, construction supervisors, maintenance painters and aircraft and vehicle maintenance workers earn slightly above their fields’ median wages, yet hold just 3 percent of those jobs.

“Women who choose male-dominated jobs are more likely to be perceived as ‘atypical,’ to be less consistent with the stereotypes that are usually associated with women,” Walsh wrote. “Therefore, women generally fare better in terms of salary and advancement in ‘mismatched’ fields, like construction.”

Construction can be a lucrative career for either gender. Top plumbers earn more than $84,440 a year, which is almost twice the median nationwide pay of $49,140 a year.   

At the outset of the day, the girls attending the event were introduced to the women mentors, who discussed the challenges and rewards of working in construction, the jobs they performed and the compensation they receive. The girls also toured a nearby working job site where crews from Miron are building the 120,000-square-foot headquarters for Community First Credit Union.

Then it was time to dig in — as the 30 students broke into smaller groups and tried their hands at creating a brick-and-mortar wall, constructing a wooden form for a concrete pour or pounding iron rebar into place to hold things steady. Some even took a turn on the crane simulators, lifting and moving objects around a virtual job site.

While the girls were certainly getting involved and appeared to be having a good time, inspiring them to pursue a career in construction remains a work in progress.

Goss, for one, is keeping her options open.

“I liked it, but I’m also thinking about becoming a teacher,” she says.