In the ongoing quest by construction officials to recruit more women, a group that has historically constituted a tiny portion of the industry’s workforce, a Wisconsin contractor is trying to reach girls during some of their most impressionable years — while they are still in middle and high school.
Neenah-based Miron Construction will hold an event titled “Build Like a Girl” later this month. The organizers’ primary goal is to encourage participants to take a closer look at an industry that company officials say is in need of more diversity.
Dave Walsh, vice president of leadership and organizational development at Miron Construction, said the company was inspired to set up the event after seeing a contractor in the South doing something similar.
“Build Like a Girl” will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24 at Miron Construction’s headquarters, on McMahon Drive in Neenah. About 30 people can attend, and the company is specifically hoping to draw girls who are in grades 7 to 10.
The event will start out with tradeswomen discussing such topics as what constitutes a typical wage in the industry and what opportunities there are for girls who are interested in apprenticeships. Walsh said he hopes the students come to perceive apprenticeships as a way to gain on-the-job training without taking the loads of debt that now so often come with a college diploma.
“One of the selling points of an apprenticeship is we pay you to train in the craft,” Walsh said.
Among the mentors speaking at the event will be Amanda Manteufel, a project manager at Miron Construction. Manteufel remembers being attracted to engineering at a young age. As a child, she played with things like Legos and dump trucks, and, in middle school, would tell people she wanted to be an engineer.
She lost some of her enthusiasm, though, when she got to high school. She had come to assume, Manteufel said, that the job would be nothing but a deskbound slog with few opportunities to work with others. Her interest was piqued again only when she looked through a course catalog for a civil-engineering program.
In participating in Miron’s event, Manteufel said her goal is to let others hear of the satisfaction she gets out of a career in construction.
“One of the biggest aspects is being able to build something and see the finished product,” she said.
Following initial presentations at Miron’s “Build Like a Girl” event, those in attendance will visit an active job site. There, Walsh said, they will get to see steel being set, concrete being poured and masonry being erected.
In arranging the day’s activities, the organizers kept in mind the dictum that watching work being performed is one thing; getting a chance to do it is another. To make sure they get the most out of their attendance, the girls who attend will get some hands-on experience. A simulator will also be on hand to give them a sense of what it feels like to run heavy machinery.
Walsh said he hopes the exclusive use of women mentors to run the show will help get a crucial point across to attendees.
“The whole idea is to see someone doing it, someone like themselves, being successful and active in the field,” he said.
National employment data show that women, in the past decade, never moved beyond making up less than 10 percent of the construction industry’s workforce.
According to information gathered from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 872,000 women were employed in the construction industry last year. That came to about 8.8 percent of the total workforce.
That figure was actually a low point for the decade, though, and can make the situation seem worse than it actually was. When the industry’s ratio of women to men was at its high tide for the decade in 2008 female workers made up 9.7 percent of the workforce.