Are women the answer to construction’s labor shortage?

African American Construction Worker Carrying plywood

While a majority (79 percent) of construction firms are planning to expand their payrolls this year, nearly an equal percentage are concerned about their ability to hire qualified workers, according to survey results by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Sage Construction and Real Estate.

“With overall unemployment now at the lowest level in nearly 50 years, contractors are having an ever harder time finding workers with or without construction experience,” said Ken Simonson, ACG’s Chief Economist. “Average pay in construction is more than 10 percent higher than in the private sector as a whole but job openings in the industry keep climbing.”

Although there are obstacles for women to get into construction and its ancillary fields, they have the potential to help alleviate the labor shortage. Of all those employed in the construction field, women comprise only 9 percent of the workforce. With females accounting for 47 percent of all employed individuals, this indicates that the construction industry is currently benefitting from just a small fraction (just 1.25 percent) of the total female workforce.

Breaking the mold

Jen Jacobs and Carolyn Kowalik grew up in construction families and had a familiarity with heavy equipment, yet their paths to Roland Machinery Company weren’t as obvious as they might have been for males with similar backgrounds. Eventually though, both women found their way to the heavy equipment industry.

Jacobs comes from a family that has been in the construction business for 22 years. Working in a small business, she had exposure to many aspects of the construction industry. Jacobs also spent many years in the corporate world.

“Recently, our Roland Sales Rep, Aaron Strade, said they had an opening for a Territory Manager,” Jacobs said. “My brother suggested that I give it a shot because I knew equipment and had sales experience. At first, I joked with Aaron about it, but once I gave it some thought, it seemed like a great opportunity.”

Kowalik began her career with Roland in 1994 as a secretary at the company’s Carterville, Ill., branch and worked her way up the ladder, breaking tradition each step of the way.

Jen Jacobs(Left) and Carolyn Kowalik(right)
Territory Manager Jen Jacobs (left) and Carterville, Ill., Parts and Service Manager
Carolyn Kowalik are trendsetters who are enjoying their careers in the
construction industry with Roland Machinery Company.

“While there wasn’t a clear path from the secretary position, as spots came open, I raised my hand and started moving up,” she recalled. “When our manager left in 2014, I began asking questions about the process because I wanted to know who my new boss was going to be. To my surprise, they asked me to apply, and I got the Parts and Service Manager job.”

Both Jacobs and Kowalik understood that competing in a male-dominated profession would present some challenges; however, it didn’t take long for people to recognize that both women are the real deal.

“Customers just want to work with someone who can help them,” stated Kowalik. “They see that I take this job seriously, and they appreciate it. There’s a level of trust.”

“I think I took some of them by surprise when I first showed up,” laughed Jacobs. “I expected some customers to test me, and I was ready. Everyone has been great to work with.”

Setting a trend

Kowalik and Jacobs are happy to be trendsetters and hope they are joined by more females in the near future.

“I wish I would have been doing this job for the last 20 years, I love it so much,” shared Jacobs. “With it becoming harder to find workers in our industry, I hope companies will think outside of the box and that more women will seek employment here.”

“It would be a win-win if more women were involved,” echoed Kowalik. “Greater diversity will help the industry evolve and adapt to today’s market. This work can instill a sense of confidence and toughness in females that they can do anything they want to do.”

Networking and mentoring sources

With a willingness to engage in some creative thinking, perhaps female workers are one answer to the labor shortage in the construction industry. For women looking for resources on careers in this field, nationally recognized organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and Women in Construction Operations provide mentorship, marketing and networking. Another notable group is Women Construction Owners & Executives USA.

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