Construction is one industry that is, very much, an old boys' game. The vast majority of construction workers are men — as of 2017, only 9.1 percent of the United states construction industry was female, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many new programs are now emerging to encourage girls to enter the construction industry. Let's take a closer look at some of these programs and why it is so vital to get more women interested in construction.
Starting Young — Tools and Tiaras
The earlier programs can get girls interested in construction, the better, which is the idea behind the Tools and Tiaras program. This program is exclusively for girls, and some of the best and brightest women in the field lead it. They offer monthly workshops for girls of all ages, and also host an annual summer camp to teach girls how to use tools, as well as how to handle basic plumbing, auto mechanic, electrical and other construction-related skills.
Getting girls interested in construction by starting them young might not be a foolproof method for getting more women to consider construction as their career, but even if the program alumnae don't step into the industry after they graduate, it is still an incredibly empowering experience for them.
Landing a construction apprenticeship isn't easy, especially for women. Construction supervisors are occasionally hidebound by decades in a male-dominated industry. Many don't think women are capable of working in construction, regardless of their skills and experience, and won't take on female apprentices. State-based "pre-apprenticeship" programs are hoping to change that. These programs offer participants the foundations they need to succeed in the construction industry, from blueprinting and math to specialisations like carpentry and electrical construction.
The program also gives participants the opportunity to network and create an infrastructure of industry contacts. That, plus the practical training, makes program graduates much more enticing to supervisors looking for new apprentices for their upcoming projects. Since many branches of the construction industry are apprenticeship-based, this could pave the way to high-paying union jobs for many women.
Education About Construction Degree Paths
There is more to construction than electrical, carpentry, plumbing or laying concrete. Construction management is a specialised team or individual working behind the scenes to make sure the job is getting done correctly. A degree in construction management will teach the student how to handle a variety of different situations, from inspecting a site to ensure workers are completing the job accurately and safely, to how to read construction plans and use the primary tools on each construction site.
A career in construction doesn't necessarily mean these women are onsite wielding power tools and constructing buildings from the ground up. A career in construction management can be just as rewarding and just as lucrative. Educating girls who are exploring degree paths can help them understand the range of options available to them.
NAWIC Summer Camp
The National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC) has been reaching out to girls in local communities for a decade now, to teach them about construction and entice them to seek out a career in the industry. The San Diego chapter has been holding an annual summer camp, Camp NAWIC, every summer since 2008 to provide instruction and hands-on experience in the construction industry for girls in the San Diego area. Its purpose is to give girls experience in construction and to provide the participants with a sense of accomplishment while fostering teamwork.
It is a camp girls can return to multiple times as well — participants who have attended for more than two years can apply to be a project superintendent, teaching new participants the skills they've learned during previous years.
Build Like a Girl
Boys of nearly every generation have used the phrase "You fight like a girl" as an insult, but what about Build Like a Girl? That's the name of a project the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee put together this year. The project enabled girls to learn and get hands-on experience on the construction site of the new Nicholas Recreation Center at UW-Madison.
The girls who participated in this project learned how to do everything from carpentry to laying concrete, and even got to sign their names in the concrete they laid, which will later be part of the final construction of the recreation center. They learned the skills from individuals who work in those trades, and while the hands-on experience alone might not be enough to entice them to seek out a career in construction, it is a fantastic opportunity nonetheless.
Joining the Conversation
Women may be a minority in construction, but they aren’t silent. By advocating for women in these industries, networking events and seminars can offer both education and empowerment. Across the globe, conferences and programs like Women in Construction USA (details soon to be announced) allow women to gather, share experiences and offer advice. For young girls, witnessing the growth of such events can offer encouragement and visibility.
The construction industry is facing a problem — much of its workforce is reaching retirement age, and there aren't enough new graduates seeking careers in construction to make up the difference. Upwards of 80 percent of construction businesses in the United States are having trouble finding enough skilled labourers to keep up with their projects. Encouraging girls and young women to seek out careers in the construction industry could be a great way to reduce the impact of this labour shortage — as long as the "boys' club" doesn't discourage them based solely on their gender.
Holly Welles is a writer with her finger on the pulse of industry changes, with a particular interest in how more women can participate in real estate and construction fields. She also operates her own residential real estate blog, The Estate Update, and keeps up with industry news on Twitter.
Interested in supercharging your career?
The Women in Construction World Series returns in 2019 with events in London, Amsterdam and the USA. A must for any women in construction looking to smash the glass ceiling, these conferences will inspire you with talks from industry leaders and enhance your skills with practical workshops, helping to drive change in the sector.