The number of women working in construction has never been higher. And a large part of that growth is due to the efforts of many local HBAs, NAHB members and community groups working together to highlight opportunities for women in home building.
One such HBA, the Builders Association of Central Pennsylvania (BACP), has seen a big boost in recent years in engagement among young women from across the region, largely thanks to its strong ties with several schools in the area — and particularly with the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC), a component of Penn State’s College of Engineering.
Earlier this year, the BACP’s Professional Women in Building (PWB) council and Penn State held a “Construct Your Future” event to promote women in the trades. The day-long career-development workshop hosted nearly 50 students from six different high schools and trade schools in the area. During the event, the students engaged with professional women builders who also gave presentations to the attendees to illustrate what it’s like working in construction and what they enjoy most.
“The event was a success on so many levels and it let the students see that there are in fact a lot of highly accomplished women in the construction industry,” said Keri O’Shea, executive officer of the BACP. “It was an invaluable experience for them to learn how they did it, connect those dots and envision themselves in those roles.”
O’Shea says they intend to make the event an annual affair, as one of several regular collaborations between BACP and PHRC. Ever since the PHRC identified a need more than five years ago to help address gender equality in home building, they have partnered with the local PWB Council on countless other workshops, trainings and projects to highlight career opportunities for women.
“When people across the industry talk about attracting the next generation of workers, that often skews more toward the trades,” said Brian Wolfgang, associate director of the PHRC. “So although we’re not directly educating students with trade skills here at Penn State, we are educating people who are going into other aspects of the industry and we felt we were well positioned to help support this initiative.”
Wolfgang says he is continually looking for opportunities to partner with the BACP and PWB inside and outside of the classroom because of the tremendous value women add to the industry.
“I’ve been teaching my class at Penn State for 10 years and we continually see examples of female students excelling in the home building industry,” Wolfgang said. “Not only do they excel in their academics, but after graduating, they thrive in their careers. And that’s because they are extremely motivated to achieve their own success and to help others succeed as well, including the younger generations that follow.”
Ellie Leyo, current chair of the Central PA PWB Council, and recent Penn State graduate, reflected on the importance of professional organizations interacting with students in the classrooms.
“Starting when I was a student, I’ve had the opportunity to attend many PWB events and create a professional support network to answer questions, provide me with resources and keep me motivated to do what I love,” Leyo said. “That’s why it’s so critical for to us to continue to shine a light on what’s possible for women in the industry.”