Wondering why I'm writing about construction jobs for women? There are some great reasons that you probably aren't aware of. Construction jobs offer better pay equity than any other industry. In the US women earn about 80% and a whopping 93.4% of men's earnings for construction jobs according to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). Construction jobs offer incredible job flexibility. You can live where you want because these skills are needed almost anywhere in the US. There are more opportunities for part-time work and when you're ready, many construction skills can be the foundation for starting a business.
That last reason was a factor in my decision to start my handyman business on the New Hampshire seacoast. You see I was laid off by IBM just six weeks before I was eligible for early retirement (my guess is they've now laid off more than 150,000 US employees). They were manipulating their stock price with rolling layoffs, and ultimately sold everything from business units to real estate. They also shifted most employee positions overseas to cut costs. So it was time to do something that couldn't move offshore!
One name that IBM had for years was I've Been Moved (IBM) because there was a time where loyal employees moved around the country to meet the needs of the company. I joined IBM in New York, moved to California and back to New York. Then I took my family to Tokyo, working throughout Asia (Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China). Back to California and then New Hampshire, to eliminate flights back east every week. Crazy right?
Contractor Jobs Start in Funny Ways
So when I talk about owning 14 houses, it should make more sense because every IBM move meant another house. When I got laid off, we were in the middle of putting a 4-story addition on my lovely Victorian in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The contractors we lived with for the year this project took were great. Steve, our builder was able to read my mind before I got halfway through explaining what I wanted. He also had his own ideas. The project centered around an open kitchen/family room so we were getting rid of the existing kitchen cabinets. Well no, Steve decided that he was going to recycle the cabinets and showed me where (you'll love his ideas, especially with putting kitchen cabinets in the closet).
With my original business ideas trashed, it was time to figure out what I was going to do. After 30 years in technology (I wrote my first program in 1970), I was ready to do something different. Real estate was a game I'd enjoyed since we bought our first house in California so I explored several options.
- After taking the classes to become an apprentice real estate appraiser, I learned I'd have to drive 4+ hours each way, plus 6 hours to complete an appraisal. For 14 hours, I'd make $100. Did I really want to do this for 75 appraisals before I could get my license?
- Next I talked to Anna Lisa about working at her mortgage company. She told me to come back after I'd completed all the coursework which wasn't attractive given my experience with appraisals. This might have worked because it looks like NH mortgage loan originator license only requires 20 hours of education but your application must be sponsored by a company!
- So I created a business plan using my homeowner experience and technology skills (similar to Home Advisor). This led me to starting a handyman business (here I am learning to drive my new vans) as I wanted first-hand experience in this new industry … and I got it!
Why Now is a Great Time for Women to Consider Construction Jobs
There are many reasons why the construction industry is opening up to women. Some of these I have first hand experience with and others, I'm able to learn about online … so you can tool. Here are trends worth watching:
- Traditional jobs aren't readily available to graduates, so women willing to step outside their comfort zone will start to see more opportunities in the construction and housing industries.
- Significant labor shortages exist in the industry with more than 2 million jobs lost between 2006 and 2011. This should make employers more open to hiring and training women.
- Construction skills training is available in many school systems from high school through college. The biggest challenge is attracting girls to take these courses. I worked with the NH Seacoast School of Technology and spoke at local colleges about my experience running a handyman business.
- More support groups exist today for women in construction jobs. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) provides lots of education and support, plus networking to help you find a job.
- Construction jobs are becoming more collaborative according to ConstructionDive. Skills where women excel like communications, relationship building and software applications make women more competitive in this male dominated industry.
- Offsite, modular construction in factories will grow in importance. Next time you stay in a multi-story hotel, inspect the bathroom ceilings as these rooms are typically dropped into place, fully outfitted.
Ready to Explore Construction Jobs?
Probably the most confusing thing is figuring out where to start your search into careers in the construction industry (remember I fell into it accidentally). It makes sense that you want to learn about job choices first, before you invest much time in training for one of the many construction jobs out there. Here are my best ideas and I'll be asking others to contribute their thoughts to:
- Attend a local meeting of the National Association of Women in Construction. Check the topic as some meetings are amazing like touring a Boston hospital with the construction team, and others might bore you. You can search for your local NAWIC chapter here …
- Different organizations dominate each state. When I owned my handyman business, I joined the National Association of Home Builders (NH). In Massachusetts, the dominant group was the Home Builders & Remodelers Association.
- Visit a local home show and talk to the companies exhibiting there (I exhibited when I owned my handyman business). If you want to be blown away, attend the International Builders Show (IBS) that runs concurrently with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS). Here's a glimpse of what you'll see at this amazing Design and Construction show.
- Look at college programs to learn where the industry is headed. Columbia University now offers graduate programs in Construction Administration and Construction Engineering and Management. Don't worry about being in the minority as I was the only woman in RPI's computer science department in the 1970s.
- Find initiatives like Massachusett's Policy Group on Tradeswomen's Issues that are fighting for increased employment of women (read Why women are finally starting to get construction jobs in Mass) .
- Read everything you can find about women in construction, like this article from GenieBelt.com, The State of Women in Construction.
- Google “women in construction” and find someone local. Contact them and ask if you can shadow them for a day. Then you'll get to see lots of things plus there should be time to ask some questions too.
- Look at descriptions of construction jobs online. Find ones that sound interesting, dig deeper and go for an exploratory interview to see what you think of the company. You might get an internship offer. Here are some job posts at ConstructionDive.com.
PS For fun I'm going to scan Women in the Workforce: A Databook and identify as many construction jobs as I can. There are the obvious one and there are an equal number of unusual jobs you might really like. For example cost estimating (materials and labor) is a key function in construction work that affects the profitability of every construction job.