With the start of March, what comes to mind? That spring is around the corner? Or perhaps the fact that we have National Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day to look forward to? If so, you’re not alone…these days are on my calendar too. Yet, something else I especially like to celebrate is Women in Construction (WIC) Week.
WIC Week is the first week in March. It’s a time to not only bring awareness to the many hats (or “hardhats” if you will) that women can wear in the construction industry, but also to recognize women’s diverse careers and amplify the impactful work of female construction professionals.
As this year’s WIC Week theme is Many Paths, One Mission, our discussions around the office here got me reflecting on my own career.
Construction is in my blood…quite literally. As a second-generation leader of my family’s construction company though, one may think my career followed a straight line. Rather, it’s been a path with some twists and turns. For example, I double majored in journalism and political science as an undergraduate, then went onto law school and worked in private practice for five years before joining Tri-North Builders (TNB). Although my education set the foundation for my career, I’ve found that my experience and the traits that I’ve picked up along the way are what best prepared me for the role I have today. Having started in the legal industry, I learned how to analyze risk, plus balance owner and project perspectives. Once I fully pivoted into the construction industry, I strengthened my ability to tackle projects with critical thinking, empathy, resilience, and a keen willingness to constantly learn. Such a path has led me to the current “hardhats” I wear today as TNB’s Vice President, as well as an Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Wisconsin’s Executive Committee Member and past President.
As a leader, I see the importance of having more women in construction. Women represent only 10.9% of the construction workforce. To build women’s presence in the industry, as employers we need to foster diversity of thought and create welcoming environments for all. Additionally, having programs in place that open doors to women pursuing construction careers are key, which is why I’m proud to be involved with AGC’s She Builds Wisconsin initiative. This program encourages young women to pursue careers in the construction industry, offers a network of women for mentoring and development, plus provides educational opportunities that can help promote gender balance.
While I am proud of our work with AGC to promote careers in the industry, I am even more proud of the women that we have working here at TNB, and the impact each makes at work. As such, I’m especially excited to introduce you to some of my female friends at TNB and share my interviews with them to highlight their paths in the construction industry:
- Erika Cleaver, Senior Project Manager
- Jodi Herbig, Shop Yard Administrator
- Ebony Porter, Project Coordinator
- Trisha Sund, Superintendent
What training or education did you purse for the construction role you have today?
- Erika: I went to the Milwaukee School of Engineering. I earned a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering with an emphasis in mechanical systems, and a second Bachelor of Science in construction management.
- Jodi: My training has been on-the-job experience, and I’m learning new things still every day!
- Ebony: My training came from working in roles where I attained transferrable skills that aligned with the construction world, such as project management, scheduling, etc.
- Trisha: I completed a four-year apprenticeship program, plus pursued continuing-education and a supervisory training program through TNB.
In celebrating this year’s WIC Week theme of Many Paths, One Mission, describe your career journey and how it has led you to where you are today.
- Erika: My first job was working for my dad’s plumbing company. During the summer breaks while in high school, I’d work with him in the field. I’d put together gas regulators, do nail plating, fire caulking, assembly, plus install kitchen and vanity sinks, as well as the bath and shower trim for his apartment projects. That experience taught me a lot. My dad instilled in me the value of hard work, getting your hands dirty, asking questions, working with other trades, and most of all how much fun and rewarding construction can be.
- Jodi: Construction sparked my interest at a young age. As my dad worked for a construction company, he’d take me to jobsites on weekends. I saw many buildings get constructed from start to finish and it was amazing. My construction career then kicked-off with TNB in 1987. I started as a receptionist/typist, then moved onto our accounting team performing various activities, ranging from payroll and accounts payables to job billings and accounts receivables. And 36 years later, I’m currently working in the shop, helping manage equipment and material inventory. I’ve seen what it takes from an office standpoint to get a building built, and now I get to see it from the field side. I find it fascinating!
- Ebony: My construction career started with TNB as well, but was in 2020. Having previously worked as a project manager for Home Depot’s in-store solutions, my interest in construction was sparked by working with vendors, as well as managing lead times, budgets and installations. Although the scope differs, the steps I’ve taken to complete projects are similar in the construction industry. I also love the behind-the scenes-work and seeing a project successfully come together in the end.
- Trisha: I started in construction about four years out of high school. I began my apprenticeship with Zenith-Tech. building bridges, next did a short stint with Austad & Son installing ceilings, and then joined TNB. Once I completed my apprenticeship, I stayed with TNB as a carpenter. Over time, I grew in my profession to a foreman, started running and supervising jobs, which all lead to my current role today as a TNB superintendent.
For young women who are on the cusp planning their future careers, what advice do you have for them to consider the construction industry?
- Erika: You belong here! Don’t be intimidated by the fact that our industry is traditionally male dominated. Whether you pursue accounting or sales, working for a supplier or subcontractor, being an interior designer, engineer, or architect, there are many paths you can take to join the construction industry. If something interests you, try reaching out to a local company to talk to someone or ask for a job shadow. The best learning opportunity is getting first-hand experience! Also, earlier Anna mentioned AGC’s She Builds Wisconsin. This is a great initiative and as a steering committee member for AGC’s first-ever She Build’s Camp, I’m helping plan a week-long camp for middle-school-aged girls to show them what the construction industry has to offer. They’ll have the opportunity to learn more about design, engineering, and subcontracting, plus partake in hands-on activities and jobsite visits.
- Jodi: My advice would be to check it out. We need more diversity in this industry and there is so much opportunity for women. They can work in the field, be a project manager, or there are many office positions. The wages are good, and there is room for advancement, both on and off the field.
- Ebony: I would tell young women that this industry isn’t just hardhats and fieldwork, which is what most people think when they learn I work in construction. The behind-the-scenes work is equally important. Also, the construction industry is essential and it’s stable as there is always a new retail space, hotel, healthcare facility, etc. being built to serve our communities.
- Trisha: If construction is something you’re interested in, give it a try. There are many different opportunities in the industry. I for one like the jobsite work. There are new things to learn every day. Some days may be a challenge and some may be repetitious, but that’s what keeps the job interesting.
Why do you think it is important that women have a presence in the construction industry?
- Erika: The more diverse backgrounds and ideas we can bring to the table, the better! Women offer additional insights, creative problem-solving skills, plus the ability to multitask. We need women (and men) in our industry to question how we’ve always done things. This will help us uncover ways of how we can improve systems and innovate solutions for better outcomes.
- Ebony: I think it’s important for women to have a place in every field. There are no gender-specific industries. I think most women are natural multitaskers, planners, and executors. Such traits are a great fit for the construction industry.
- Jodi: In general, the construction industry needs more workers. As women can offer strong analytical-thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills, they’re a valuable resource for the industry.
- Trisha: It’s a matter of having diversity of thought. We bring a different perspective to the industry and can offer a holistic approach with other team members and key stakeholders.
Wow! Talk about some amazing insights and perspectives from these talented team members. As we look to the future, it’ll be exciting to see how such women continue to pave the way for others, and watch the next generation of women develop their construction careers.
Author: Anna Stern, Tri-North Builders Vice President