How can women help alleviate the labor shortage?
There is a big opportunity out there for women in electrical and other fields, but especially the datacom work, because it is more intricate.
How have things changed for women in the construction industry?
I think we are more accepted than we used to be, and the safety issues are being resolved slowly but surely. Society's overall awareness of harassment issues has probably caused better conditions for women on the job site.
What are some challenges faced by women construction workers?
The personal protective equipment has not historically been made to fit a woman. It wasn't until 1995 at our convention in Washington, D.C., that the first actual women's steel-toed work boot was introduced. Women have a reputation for being accident-prone on a job, but part of that is a result of their equipment not fitting them properly. OSHA and the manufacturers are resolving that issue. There are more and more women entering those fields, so there is more of a market for it.
What training programs are available for women?
Project Crew (Construction Readiness Education for Women) in Springfield, Mo., is a nice program because it not only teaches women what to expect on a job site and the trade that they are going into, but it also deals with the family issues.
What is it going to take to get more women interested in the construction industry?
I think it's going to take turning around teachers and career counselors in schools to understand that the electrical field is lucrative. It's cleaner work than some of the other trades. A lot of the time, you can spend a lot of your time in a nice, clean office building. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for women in the electrical industry if we can dispel a few notions in the public's mind about construction workers in general.
How can we change the perception of construction?
The thinking is that if you're not smart enough to go to college, you can always go to construction. The truth of the matter is that an electrician has to have pretty good math grades or they don't even get into the apprenticeship program. It's really irritating because it is more lucrative than most college careers. Yet we seem to think that you are only a success if you've been to college. There's a place for both.
How do you get that message across to the children?
For Women in Construction Week, we organized “NAWIC Education Foundation Design-Build Program, From Crayons to CAD.” The kids work on teams in their classrooms to construct a scale-model home. They have to do everything from the layout and design to estimate.
What was the response to the program?
It's been very well received by the scholastic community, the children, the construction industry and the educational community. We started with one teacher in one class four years ago. It's grown to 300 teachers, 1,500 students and 30 schools. They are going to take it nationwide next year.
What do you see in the future for women in construction?
There's a great potential for women in the industry.
Flip to the cover story on page 12 to read profiles on women in the electrical industry and statistics on the labor shortage. For more information about the National Association of Women in Construction, visit NAWIC's Web site at www.nawic.org.
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