A division of SEA Construction, Inc.

Re-Siding Curb Appeal: Women in Construction II

Posted by Eva Daly

Jun 11, 2014

 

Peninsula Re-Siding Curb AppealToday, Re-Siding Curb Appeal is taking another look at women in construction. 
Joycenne Vanderbyl is on a mission. She wants young women to know that working in the skilled trades in construction is “a great job, with potential for travel and you can make a very good living.” Vanderbyl is a millwright, and everywhere she works — large urban center or small community — she approaches the Chamber of Commerce or seeks out schools. Her goal: to ask if she can volunteer to speak with students about a career in construction.

She notes that “there is a perception, based on old stereotypes, that men on the site will be less than welcoming.” But this is not the reality, says Vanderbyl, who started in construction 38 years ago. In those days, women were such a rarity on the job site that there were not even washrooms designated for their use. “Today women are welcome on the site and our contributions are valued,” she says.“I speak to all the students, but what I often find is that girls really have very little knowledge about the skilled trades,” says Vanderbyl, who credits the portability of her work for allowing her to explore. She now works for Kellogg Brown & Root (Canada) Company at the Syncrude Canada project in Fort McMurray, Alta.

A significant number of women could have the skills, ability and desire to work in construction, says Vanderbyl. She scoffs at the old stereotype that women don’t have the mechanical skills to succeed. “Come on, if a woman can read a pattern to sew a dress,” she says, “she can read a blueprint.” Women who want to consider a career in construction should see the sky as the limit, suggests Vanderbyl. With the pending retirement of the baby boom generation, employers are actively recruiting construction workers.

 

Joycenne Vanderbyl The number of skilled workers needed in the years ahead are staggering, says Rosemary Sparks, senior director, planning and development, Construction Sector Council (CSC). “The construction industry is working to create a welcoming environment for all young people interested in a rewarding career as a highly skilled tradesperson. Or you can move from tradesperson to supervisor to management and to company owner, if that is your interest,” she says.

 

One of the attractions that Vanderbyl highlights in her talks is the many types of work in the skilled trades in construction. “There is a role for everyone,” she says. “One of the myths I like to dispel is the one about having to be big and strong to work in construction. I know women who are 90 pounds soaking wet who work in the trades. Women can drive machinery or do electrical or pipe fitting work. There are so many choices to suit every interest and capability.”

"And then He said..."

 Peninsula Re-Siding Curb Appeal“We’re not a bunch of rednecks running around the job sites without harnesses,” said Norm Brady, vice president of human resources for Grand Rapids-based Triangle Associates Inc. who next week will take over as president of the Western Michigan chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Brady steps into the position at ABC as John Doherty, the chapter’s long-time president and a mentor within the national organization, steps down. When Doherty joined ABC 42 years ago, he was brought on to help organize apprenticeship-training programs, which until that point, were only available through trade unions. Hiring in most of the statistical areas grew an average of 11 percent.

“We’re looking forward to get back into the hiring mode,” said Rex Bell, president of Kalamazoo-based Miller-Davis Co. “There is some opportunity out there right now, and there should be a lot more in the coming years.” The industry has turned to hiring after steep layoffs for many companies in the middle of the recession as projects dried up, as an aging industry workforce looks to retirement and as workloads generally improve, Bell said. “Companies are looking for new people to build on,” he said. “It seems to be a turning point for seeing more opportunity for good, young people to get into the industry.” The challenge is identifying people who want to be involved in the construction industry and having enough unique and rewarding work to feed people, Bell said.

Today, Doherty said the construction industry continues to have talent-related challenges, an issue he and others have worked on for years. Recent efforts have focused on creating educational avenues for key learning areas in business strategy, marketing, market strategy, organization efficacy, technology, management of projects and people. The construction industry knows to attract more women and new blood overall there needs to be better educational programs and awareness and avenues to promote women to positions in management and in the skilled trades.

Those programs are crucial as many school districts have dissolved their building trades programs, he said. Now, many of those same districts struggle to reinvest in those programs and to point students to the right courses at community colleges, for example. ABC and companies themselves are realizing that getting to students early is the only way to bring back industry and backfill the talent pool, Doherty said. “Before, people were promoted through the ranks,” he said. “Now there is opportunity for those coming out of college with a four-year degree to step into some of the upper management positions as the babyboomers transition out of companies. “At the same time, we’re still working against this stigma of individuals making a living with their hands.” The educational efforts of ABC and other industry associations come at a time when many in the industry are gearing up to hire new people. Across the US, construction companies (which are tracked with mining and logging firms) generally added jobs in the May 2012 to May 2013 period, of which women make up about 9 percent of the construction industry in the United States, according to data from the Association of General Contractors.

 

At SEA/PSC we see the challenges in this are in our industry. We value and encourage the contribution of the women on our team, employees in our company, our subcontractors, our clients (of which over one-half are women) and our community at large and are engaging with women owned businesses and women based educational programs.  Without you, we would not be here!

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Steven and Petalyn Albert

S.E.A. & Peninsula Siding

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