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Women Building Careers In Construction

People are often surprised to hear about women working in the construction field. I’ve been writing about construction for over 20 years and I still see very amazed looks on people’s faces when I tell them my topic is construction. 

So, people may be surprised to learn that the construction field is a very open and lucrative area for Women. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics  there is no gender pay gap, as women earn 99.1% of what men make in the field. Typically, women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1 percent of what men do, so this is a unique opportunity for women to step into a male-dominated industry and obtain pay parity. The percentage of female employees has increased across many industries; this is one with excellent opportunity. Of all the people working in construction, women comprise only 10.3 percent. While women working in construction is still low, it is slowly growing. There has been a big boom in the construction industry with a large need for housing. According to Kliplinger, total housing starts were 2.8% above a year ago and “a 3.8% gain in single-family building permits points to a stronger performance from builders over the next couple of months.” Therefore, there will be a need for more people working the field.

This being Women in Construction week , I took the opportunity to interview two women who have been successful in the construction field in order to find out more about what they believe are the opportunities for other women. 

As president of 84 Lumber, Maggie Hardy Knox oversees day-to-day operations of the company and its approximately 250 stores, component manufacturing plants, custom door shops, custom millwork shops and engineered wood product centers nationwide. A certified national women’s business enterprise owned by Maggie Hardy Knox, 84 Lumber was named by Forbes as one of America’s Largest Private Companies in 2018 and one of America’s Best Large Employers in 2019.

What requirements or credentials are necessary to work in the construction field?

MHK – I believe the basic requirement is to have genuine care for customers and associates. And like anything else in life, a great work ethic can make you super successful. If you show us that you have those traits, our company will train you on everything else.

What types of positions/opportunities are available in the construction business?

MHK – The construction industry offers a wide variety of positions. For example, at 84 Lumber, our team headquarters in Eighty Four, PA offers opportunities from purchasing to accounting and more. On the store level, there are several different options such as management, sales, warehouse, etc.

Are there areas of the country that are hotter now for construction related jobs?

MHK – Housing starts do typically drive demand, so expansions (and therefore hires) are often located in those areas where the housing market is booming. In the next year, 84 Lumber is opening new locations in Boise, Stockton, Detroit and more.

Are there particular job functions where there is a great need?

MHK – We have the entry level management trainee positions that touch all parts of our business. We also have tremendous opportunities within our installed sales division. Our on-site project managers work to help relieve residential building contractors and commercial builders from the everyday problems associated with the coordination of materials and labor.

MHK Why should women be getting into the construction industry?

Women should join this industry because it’s everlasting. There will always be new homes to build and remodel. We’ve truly seen this over the last 12 months. The career opportunities are endless, too.

What opportunities are there for women?

MHK – There’s equal opportunity for everyone with immense opportunity for growth. We’re determined to find the next generation of 84 Lumber team members who want to build a career. The Industry is broad enough to where you can pick many career paths. Here at 84 Lumber, management trainees enter an intensive, one-on-one, on-the-job training program that teaches them about the company’s business and puts them on a path to become a future leader within the company.

Do you need a college degree to make money in the construction industry?

MHK – College is not for everyone, and college debt is certainly not for anyone. Young people can strive for business success and financial security without college. And there are good jobs available right now. I would argue that 84 Lumber has the best training program in the world, with lumber and sales camps and leadership training, that can build any person into whatever they’re willing to commit to being at 84.

How did 84 Lumber become a leader in this male-dominated industry?

MHK – It’s passion. Female or male doesn’t matter here. The passion of an individual is what makes the leader. At 84, we help understand our customers’ needs and meet their goals. We’re always trying to find a better way. I’m always asking, is there something else we could be doing? How can we get better? That mentality runs deep.

How do you support and encourage more women in construction?

MHK – As a female leader of this company, I support my associates every day. At 84 Lumber, there’s room for every associate to succeed. Our culture creates an environment where you work hard, care, and check your ego at the door, you can do anything you want in this company. We have lots of great stories. Here, the sky’s the limit.

Any advice for young women who want to follow this path?

MHK – My advice is whether you choose this industry or another one, your hard work and your dedication will separate you from anyone else and make you stand out. It can be exciting and is constantly changing; it offers women a wealth of opportunity. And it’s an industry that is growing and looking for people.

Marnie Oursler is President of Marnie Custom Homes in Bethany Beach, Delaware and specializes in designing and building sustainable, luxury beach homes using locally sourced materials. She built the first LEED-certified home in Delaware as well as one of the first 95% American-made homes in the country. She was a host of Big Beach Builds that ran for two seasons on The DIY Network. Her innovative use of materials, impeccable craftsmanship, creative design sense, and unparalleled work ethic have put Marnie in high-demand as a thought-leader. Marnie is consistently on the front lines promoting women in the building industry, while also providing a strong voice for women leaders in any businesses—and encourages women to start their own businesses. She continues to revolutionize the industry with a fresh approach to established building practices and processes.

What steps should people take, who want to enter the construction business?

MO – The best thing people can do is get out into the field. A lot of people who work in construction stay in the office, but in order to understand the process, you have to get out in the field. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the best way to learn all aspects of the building industry. I’d recommend applying for a job with a builder or subcontractor and learn all aspects of the business. A starting position in the field is laborer which does not require experience. Then service manager, assistant project manager and project manager, in that order.

What requirements or credentials are necessary?

MO – It depends on your jurisdiction. Many people ask me if you need a construction management degree, but in my experience, you don’t need one to start in construction. Experience is what’s most important in construction, so getting out there and working form the ground up is important or working for a subcontractor who works for a builder is another great option.

What types of positions/opportunities are available in the construction business?

MO – There are literally hundreds of jobs – interior design, architecture, sales of the actual building products (tile, siding, roofing, countertops), homebuilder sales, project management, lighting, plumb-ing, mechanicals, roofing, social media and marketing, etc. There are so many different ways to get into the construction industry.

How would someone go about finding these jobs?

MO – We find our employees from Indeed.com which lists many good construction jobs. Or you can make direct inquiries to a builder or company that you admire or want to learn from. A job applicant that comes recommended from someone I know, and trust goes to the top of my interview list.

Are there areas of the country that are hotter now for construction related jobs?

MO – Follow the real estate trends. Right now, with jobs going remote, the beach market and suburbs are hot as people are fleeing the city.

Are there particular job functions that have a great need?

MO – The labor market and trade jobs are always in high demand. Trade jobs are extremely valuable, and we always need more people in those positions. People like plumbers, electricians, elevator install-ers, fire suppression, HVAC. For trade jobs you do need to go to trade school for this and get a vocational degree (2-year degree).

What is the biggest challenge of being a woman in construction?

MO – The biggest challenge of being a woman in construction is earning respect of subcontractors. The industry is heavily male dominated, especially out in the field. There are still a lot of people with the mentality that certain tasks are a man’s job, and I wouldn’t understand because I’m a woman. That has been the hardest obstacle to overcome. I grew up working in the field with my brother and as an adult as well. He would always say to me, “You might not be as big as them, but you are smart – don’t let anyone talk down to you. They will see it; you will help them.” My Dad would say something similar, “When you walk on that job site, remember that you are the one in charge. You provide direction, trust in yourself because you know what you are doing – go manage that job site for your client. ” I was able to earn respect from subcontractors by working with them to solve problems, listening, putting in long hours, and asking for advice and feedback from them. Once the guys in the field saw that and felt they were part of this amazing process, we became a team. It takes hundreds of people to build these custom homes, and I am so grateful for them. I know how hard it is when it’s really cold and windy along the ocean and then when it’s really hot and exhausting. But it’s all worth it – we have hundreds of people who take so much pride in what they do for my company. I value them and let them know it all the time.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

MO – My biggest advice for women considering a career in the construction industry is to turn perceived negatives into positives. I did this early on in my career and it’s served me well. In the beginning, there were naysayers who believed I couldn’t’t build a house because I was a woman, but if you’re passionate about something and put in the work, you can achieve your goals no matter what the “industry standard” may assume. My mantra is always “DON’T GIVE UP!” Especially on your dreams and passions.

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