It’s evident that women have made great strides in the workplace over the last decade. It is not uncommon to see women in managerial or leadership roles. Even though many industries are gaining qualified female employees, one industry appears to be behind the curve.
According to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2015 women made up 46.8 percent of total employment across all industries, but they only accounted for 9.3 percent of construction employees. It’s important to note, that construction had the lowest percentage of women employees amongst all the industries reviewed in the survey.
The Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) is stepping up to the plate and working with fellow industry professionals to increase that percentage.
How? By inspiring interest within young female students to pursue a career in construction to increase the pool of qualified female employees. It’s with that goal in mind, a pilot program for an all girl’s construction day camp was born.
“The ultimate goal here is to introduce these young adults to the many facets of the construction industry before they have to select an endorsement for the career path they will focus on in high school,” said Carla Thompson, Workforce Development Manager for Turner Industries Group. “If we don’t talk with them now, we’re never going to get them engaged.”
Steven Horton, Ed.D., CMEF’s Schools Training Division Director, presented the camp pilot program to Monty Heins, Board Chair of the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA) to secure funding. Mr. Heins immediately saw the value and EHCMA decided to back the endeavor. Additionally, Natalie Smith, KBR Sr. Manager, HR Workforce Development, indicated KBR would also provide funding.
After months of committee* meetings and preparation, on December 14, 2016, 30, 8th grade girls walked through the doors of CMEF’s La Porte Training and Testing Center to experience a dynamic and fun-filled day of immersive learning.
“We chose to invite intermediate and junior high schools within the districts of high schools we sponsor. Based on a set number of students, it was at the discretion of the CTE Director of each district which junior highs were invited. While we knew we could not invite all junior highs to participate, we did want representation from both sides of the ship channel. We invited a targeted number of students per district because this was a pilot project relative to House Bill 5,” said Steven Horton, Ed.D., Schools Training Division Director with Construction & Maintenance Education Foundation.
Armed with their tool boxes, personal protective equipment, writing materials and positive attitudes, the students participated in activities ranging from reading blueprints, pipefitting exercises, learning the basics of understanding a tape measure, to building a make shift night light, learning the value of fall protection and more. Volunteers made it a point to emphasize the importance of safety among the students, one way of doing such was by conducting a job safety analysis (JSA) at the start of each session—similar to jobsite JSAs.
It was not coincidence that most of the volunteers who lead the various sessions were women. Twenty-one volunteers participated in this exciting pilot program. Having successful women in the construction industry volunteer for the event was integral to the inspiration piece.
“It was a great learning experience for me as well. I enjoy what I do and sharing that with the girls was an empowering moment. As this program grows, I hope the owners and contractors get more involved and offer onsite visits so that the girls can see how their studies apply on a real jobsite,” said Smith.
As the day concluded, each camper left with not only items they built themselves but with a more in-depth understanding of the exciting, vast careers that await them within the construction industry.
Providing more skilled women to the construction industry workforce is not something that can be solved overnight, but with CMEF, ECHMA, and ABC Greater Houston member companies working together, change is sure to come.
*Committee Members: Carla Thompson, Francis Hernandez, Donna Sandlin, Steven Horton, Brenda Ortega, Melissa Botkin, Kristy Yantz