Statistics confirm that while the construction industry is comprised of less than 9% women, female participation in the trades is even lower, coming in at 2.6%. To help combat this workforce issue, Miron Construction Co., Inc. has developed a unique event to expose a new generation—and gender—to the construction industry.

Build Like a Girl exposes girls in seventh through 10thgrade to careers in the construction industry, including small group sessions where they receive hands-on exposure to the trades and the skills they possess. The goal is to reach out to young girls and make a long-lasting impression at a very critical time in their lives.

Miron uses this event to help break stereotypes surrounding construction and to initiate change within the industry that would lead to a more inclusive future. Build Like a Girl has been a success in Neenah, Wis., where Miron’s headquarters are located, for three years, and in Madison, Wis., the home of one its satellite offices, for one year.

One of the barriers to attracting more women to the industry is that girls who may be interested in pursuing construction don’t see other women in those types of positions. Therefore, many young women don’t even consider construction as a viable career option. High school classes that often spark interest in these types of careers are still attended mainly by young men, and it can be intimidating to be one of the only girls in shop class.

According to data compiled by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, women who work in construction tend to fair better in terms of pay equity than other sectors of the economy, earning 93.4 percent of what men make compared to 82.1 percent across all other industries. Why higher earnings?

Women who choose male-dominated jobs are more likely to be perceived as “atypical,” and therefore less likely to be burdened by stereotypes usually associated with women. Also, when it comes to union trades, a person with a specific type of training and an explicit number of years of experience makes a definitive wage—gender isn’t a factor.

Miron’s Build Like a Girl event begins with introductions, an overview of the company and of the type of positions available in construction. Next, attendees are exposed to a panel of women who hold various positions within the industry. Attendees can ask questions regarding education, required certifications, and how they can turn an interest in construction into a career.

They learn that there are numerous different paths to take. Whether they choose to attend college to earn a degree in engineering or architecture, or they experience an apprenticeship program where they receive on-the-job training to learn applicable skills and earn certification in a specific trade. Many different avenues can lead to a career in construction, where one can impact the design and construction of incredible facilities. There are opportunities to get one’s hands dirty in the field as well as ones to work on digital plans and virtual models in an office setting.

After the panel discussion, participants receive an overview of Miron’s safety policies and procedures, during which time they receive a personalized hard hat, a safety vest, glasses, and gloves, to ensure they are well-protected when they venture onto an active jobsite where they have the chance to see the trades in action, up close and personal.

Next, the young ladies can get their hands a little dirty exploring different aspects of construction during the hands-on portion of the event. From carpentry and concrete work, to masonry and equipment operation, attendees receive a broad view of the many different trades that make up the industry. Participating in these hands-on activities allow the girls to see something in themselves that they may not have seen before: potential.

When the girls are finished spreading mortar and laying brick to the line, many masonry-focused questions arise, including:

  • What opportunities exist in masonry that young girls should know about?The same opportunities exist for women and men in the field of masonry. One can become a journeyman mason, a mason tender, or gain leadership skills to secure a management position with the right amount of training and experience.
  • What would a masonry apprenticeship be like? A masonry apprenticeship consists of a three-year training period on the jobsite and in the classroom. During this time, the apprentice receives 4,680 hours of on-the-job training, 400 paid hours of on-the-job training, and 400 hours of paid related instruction in the classroom. Successful completion of the program also requires completion of Red Cross First Aid training, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety Training courses, and the Transition-to-Trainer course, which was developed by and for Wisconsin’s apprenticeship community to develop journey level worker’s and supervisor’s ability to pass on their knowledge of the trade to the next generation.
  • What type of worker are you looking for in the field of masonry? There are several traits that make someone a successful mason, including:
    • Active Listening: Understanding verbal direction, paying full attention to what other people are saying, taking the necessary time to understand the points being made, asking applicable questions at appropriate times, and abstaining from interrupting at inappropriate times, to complete tasks successfully.
    • Coordination: Adjusting one’s actions in relation to the actions of others.
    • Time Management: Managing one’s own time and the time of others.
    • Attention to Detail: Paying attention to detail, being thorough in completing work tasks, and taking pride in craftsmanship.
    • Analytical Thinking: Analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and solve problems. One needs to be able to analyze information and evaluate results to select the best course of action to resolve issues.
    • Achievement/Effort: Establishing and maintaining personally challenging goals for achievement and exerting effort toward mastering specific skills and techniques.
    • Independence: Developing one’s own way of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
    • Visualization: Imagining how something will look after its composition is changed—when its parts are moved or rearranged. Inspecting equipment, structures, and materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects. The ability to tell when something is wrong, or better yet, when something is likely to go wrong, is an important part of the job.
    • Dependability: Being reliable, responsible, dependable, and fulfilling obligations. These types of positions require persistence in the face of obstacles.
    • Seeking Out Information: Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources. The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented via verbal communication.
    • Initiative: Willing to take on new responsibilities and challenges.
    • Problem Identification: Arranging materials or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
    • Organizing, Planning, and Prioritizing Work: Developing and coordinating specific goals and plans to accomplish work.
    • Performing General Physical Activities: These positions require a great deal of physical ability and agility of the entire body, such as climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and handling materials.
    • Building and Construction: Knowledge of materials, methods, and the tools involved in the construction, repair, or renovation of houses, buildings, or other structures.
    • Mathematics: Knowledge of arithmetic including: measuring counting, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division; calculating ratios, percentages, and dimensions with and without the aid of a calculator; employing the use of algebra, geometry, and their respective applications.
    • Design: Knowledge of design techniques, tools, and principals involved in the production of technical plans, blueprints, drawings, and virtual models.
    • Literacy: One must be able to read signs, blueprints, diagrams, technical manuals, and specifications to construct buildings and other masonry structures. One should also possess the ability to communicate clearly both orally and in writing.
  • What does the masonry workload consist of?
    • Outdoor work requires prolonged standing, kneeling, climbing, stooping, squatting, bending, and lifting materials weighing 60-65 pounds. Bricklayers must be able to tolerate loud noise, work in confined spaces and at elevated heights, tolerate repetitive reaching and work in all types of weather conditions.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were less than 500 women employed as brick, block, or stone masons in 1986. That number increased to approximately 2,000 in 1992. Although female participation is increasing, women still only constitute 1.1% of working masons. Employment of masonry workers is projected to grow by 12% between 2016 and 2026—faster than the average for all other occupations. Population growth will result in the construction of more schools, hospitals, and other facilities.

With the industry booming and a critical labor shortage looming, construction companies need to become more creative in their recruitment efforts. Miron Construction hopes that Build Like a Girl will change girls’ lives and opinions about masonry and the construction industry, and that it will inform them of all the incredible opportunities that lie before them. The goal of the event is to inspire the next generation of young ladies to try new opportunities and think outside the box when it comes to career options, because “young girls with dreams become women with vision.”

Flyout Quote: The goal of the event is to inspire the next generation of young ladies to try new opportunities and think outside the box when it comes to career options, because “young girls with dreams become women with vision.”

Words: Todd Higgins, general superintendent of masonry at Miron Construction Co., Inc.
Photos: Miron Construction Co., Inc.