The number of open jobs in the construction industry is growing as housing remains a bright spot for the broader economy. Members of the NAHB Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council shared what they are doing locally to help fill the labor gap, inspiring the next generation of home builders to join the field and conveying the benefits of the industry as a rewarding career and a viable alternative to a college degree and associated student debt.
They are also hoping to increase the number of women in the field, which currently stands just under 11% of the overall construction workforce.
Putting Tools in Young Hands
Meg Pennington, principal of Pennington Design Group in Vancouver, Wash., and the 2021 chair of the PWB council at the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland in nearby Portland, Ore., noted that her local council supports the area nonprofit Girls Build, a program for young girls aged 8-14 that works at putting tools in the hands of girls during annual summer camps.
The girls explore hammering, painting, soldering copper, concrete, roofing, electrical and more, with girls their own ages and all taught by female instructors. “Tools are fun! I think it’s important to introduce options in the trades at a young age to let them know of the numerous career possibilities,” Pennington said. She says it’s also exciting for them to learn skills that can help them later join a field with great earning potential and high demand.
“With our growing need for workers and lack of women in the construction field, introducing ladies at an early age may help to even out the gender ratio by the time they are ready to enter the workforce. At least that is my hope,” she said. While COVID-19 curbed some in-person volunteering, Pennington says her council looks forward to resuming the tradition next summer.
The HBA of Metro Portland’s PWB council also gathers raffle items throughout the year to help raise money to donate to Girls Build. A recent golf tournament raised $1,100 for the group, a record for the event. They are also working on a project that will help provide funds to launch a scholarship program. “We can’t wait to start receiving candidates and give out the first of many scholarships to young women wanting to get into our wonderful world of construction.”
In Ankeny, Iowa, Steph Reed, is a builder and owner of Partners By Design Homes, Inc., and the founding chair of the PWB council at the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines. The local council works with a week-long construction camp for girls to learn about the trades. The camp is sponsored by the Department of Education, a key factor Reed says that can influence how teachers and parents view the program and in turn how they convey its weight to young people.
“Working with all of these groups involved is very important if we want the youth of today to know they have options in the skilled trades,” says Reed. “It can help grow our workforce, get trades programs back in schools and help us fund the camps we run, and provide mentorship and support to women who are still the minority in this field. It takes all of us,” Reed adds.
The council also provides scholarships to young women interested in home building. The scholarship program began three years ago with funds raised from an activity book her local created to promote the skilled trades to elementary school children and educators. The group also had sponsors that helped get the book published and they run an annual phone-a-thon fundraiser, raising over $20,000 the last two years.
Building The Future
The HBA of Greater Des Moines’ PWB council also is involved in Build My Future, a nonprofit that organizes a day of hands-on learning for high school students focused on architecture, construction, bricklaying, heavy equipment operating, welding and other career opportunities in the trades, highlighting the meaningful and good paying jobs available. The event began in Missouri and has since expanded to several other states including Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas.
“Our Build My Future program in Des Moines was a huge success. We teamed up with a local nonprofit to make desks for kids in need,” Reed said, adding that getting young people involved in the building process gave them an exposure they are missing in the classroom. They also got to help on a worthy project. She noted many young people, parents and educators are showing more interest in returning these options to the classroom and continuing with the skilled trades after graduation.
The 2021 Des Moines event hosted over 3,000 young people and brought the attention of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and NAHB Second Vice Chair Alicia Huey, a past NAHB PWB Council Chair.
The PWB Council and other members of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association along with the Oklahoma Home Builders Foundation produces the Build My Future event in Oklahoma City. Christy Howell, CEO and lead designer at CRH Design + Custom Build in Oklahoma City is also the 2020/2021 PWB chair and the 2020/2021 chair of Build My Future OKC. The event, a career exploration day that introduces students to carpentry, masonry, electrical, plumbing, HVAC work, heavy equipment operation and other construction trades, helps “spark an energy,” Howell says, when young people get to see contractors at work.
Last year’s Build My Future OKC attracted over 400 students from 20 nearby schools in multiple school districts. “Build My Future OKC is our signature project. It enables our council to partner with local organizations and companies to financially support students and provide ways to bring the workforce development solutions to the community,” Howell says. It also helps to engage and recruit new members.
“This is a hands-on event. Attendees are participating and not just watching and observing from afar. We’ve seen growth in some of these young people in what is a very short period of time, it’s like a super charge for the industry,” said Howell. The PWB council also works with the local community college to present the knowledge of basic tools to middle school students from surrounding area schools, and Howell is working with other local PWB council members on a summer construction day camp.