It’s no secret that there is a shortage of skilled laborers in the construction industry. As previous generations of skilled laborers leave the field, there just aren’t enough newcomers to fill the vacant positions. One of the reasons for this is the strong push by parents and school counselors toward a 4-year degree. Another reason, however, is underutilization of the female workforce. MAGIC (Mentoring a Girl in Construction) is trying to bring a solution to both issues, challenging parents and schools to reevaluate the necessity for and estimation of the construction industry as an acceptable career field, especially for females.
BIG IDEAS PRODUCE BIG RESULTS
During a National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) convention, Diane Quimby approached Renee Conner with an idea: “She had the idea about MAGIC and said she had done a similar camp like it for the company she used to work for—all in-house—and she said, ‘do you think we could do this and make it work?’ I said, ‘absolutely’,” says Renee about MAGIC’s inception. “We went and had lunch and the next thing you know, we were doing MAGIC.”
The purpose of MAGIC is for young females to learn about the different opportunities the construction industry has to offer. The goal is that, after walking away from MAGIC camp, girls will realize that a career within the construction industry is not only viable, but desirable. “There are sales professionals in the construction industry; there are safety professionals in the construction industry. We have industrial hygienists that are in construction,” explains Renee. “These are careers that we open up avenues of access to for these girls. They actually get to work with women during the week of MAGIC in all of these different roles and different opportunities and they go home and tell their parents.”
The more knowledgeable young females are about the construction industry—what it has to offer—the more likely they’ll be to give it a career shot. That’s a big deal. The potential to harness the resource of the female workforce for the construction industry means moving closer to closing the skilled trades’ gap. And MAGIC is making some major headway: “We did the first camp in 2007 and now we’re all over the country,” says Renee.
FIGHTING TO CHANGE PERCEPTIONS
The push for young adults to attend a 4-year university has been going on for decades. Trade schools and apprenticeships under skilled trade workers are looked at as “lesser” than a University. “Parents—for as long as I can remember—have used construction as a demeaning job. It’s not a glorified career move. Nobody wants their child to go into construction,” says Renee. While many jobs in the construction industry may not be glamorous, they are far from being demeaning jobs; MAGIC is trying to open the eyes of parents to that fact. Jobs in the construction industry can be high paying and are absolutely necessary to the infrastructure of the U.S.
Further arguments for trade schools and apprenticeships over a 4-year degree? No crippling student loan debt and an increased likelihood of getting a job straight away. “If these girls understand that they can go into these apprenticeship programs that are out there—either union or non-union—they can come out without student loans. They go to school while they’re working—so they’re earning money while they’re learning,” says Renee. Gaining real-world experience and a paycheck, while learning a skilled trade, seems very tempting. By the time the apprenticeship ends, by the time a young adult has made it through tech school, she (and this applies to young men as well) will know how to hold down a job in her field; she’s been gaining hands-on, real-world experience over the entire span of her higher education. With the shortage the construction industry is seeing right now, getting a job straight away should be no cumbersome task.
And MAGIC’s efforts are paying off: “I have two girls in Bartow County, Georgia, that have just finished their first year in welding.” Renee says that while the mother of one of the girls fought against the girl’s decision to go into welding, the girl won out. “You’ve got to tell these parents, because parents are still under that assumption that you’ve got to have that 4-year degree, and that’s just not the truth anymore. If you don’t change their minds, they can influence their child’s life. We’re showing the girls and parents every day that these non-traditional fields are very viable careers,” says Renee.
WHAT CAN SCHOOLS DO TO HELP?
“The first few years I started MAGIC, I got no help from the schools whatsoever; none from the counselors,” Renee recounts. But that is changing—if slowly. “Now that there are more of us out there with programs like MAGIC, they’re starting to see the value of pushing to two-year technical colleges or construction management degrees.” Knowing a skilled trade, having a career in the construction industry, can be both lucrative and personally rewarding. “These girls are getting out there and making money and stepping out of their parents’ homes,” says Renee. At a time when many 30-year-olds are moving back in with their parents because they can’t find a job in their career field, the ability for these girls to support themselves is proof that technical colleges and skilled trade apprenticeships are worthwhile.
Many high schools and parents, however, are stuck in that 4-year college mindset. “If you can change parents’ minds when their kids are young, you have more of a chance at getting them on your side and letting them see what’s out there for their kids,” says Renee. Having the support of parents and school counselors would be a significant swing in the right direction. “They just don’t understand what’s out there and that’s what we’re hoping to do with MAGIC, along with other programs.” ■
For More Information: For more information about MAGIC and to find out when camp dates are, visit www.mentoringagirlinconstruction.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, October 2015
Did you enjoy this article?
Subscribe to the FREE Digital Edition of Modern Contractor Solutions magazine.