Branch builds career pipeline for girls
Women made up about 11% of the construction workforce in 2021, but that doesn’t mean they were all on site wearing a hard hat.
That percentage includes women in office and administrative roles, positions more traditionally filled by females, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
And so, many recruiters see women as an untapped resource for the construction industry, which expects to lose a whopping 41% of its workers to retirement by 2031, according to the National Center for Construction Education and Research.
On Oct. 22, Roanoke construction firm The Branch Group hosted its inaugural G.I.R.L. (Girls in Real Life) Construction Experience, an event designed to expose girls to opportunities in the construction industry, with an emphasis on careers as skilled tradespeople and in science, technology, engineering and math professions.
“It’s not a career that’s just for men,” stresses Aisha Johnson, Branch’s economic inclusion, diversity and equal employment opportunity specialist. “Women can have successful careers in construction.”
More than 100 girls and teens ages 5 to 18 turned out for the 4-hour experience, during which they participated in activities ranging from riding in a boom lift to taking a virtual reality tour of a construction site to building a paper bridge.
“We focused on activities related to construction site work since fewer women enter those positions in construction,” explains Johnson.
Nikki Williams, CEO of Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline, which helped organize the event, points out that by the time girls are in 11th grade, fewer than 12% will consider a career in a STEM field.
“And we truly believe it’s all about access,” Williams says, “so this event was wonderful because it gave girls access to see exactly all the different types of activities and careers that they could pursue in construction that have a STEM component to them and gave them a chance to do it hands-on.”
Aubrie Taylor, a third-grader from Vinton, particularly enjoyed flying a drone and learning how drones are used to survey construction sites. “That was really fun,” she says.
Aubrie’s mother, Tamara Taylor, signed her daughter up for the construction experience because she wanted to open her eyes to the many career opportunities she has. “With construction itself, it’s not something that you see women in the field doing every single day,” she says.