Let’s Build Program Introduces Young Women to Career Pathways in Construction
By George Lewis on July 16, 2019
A unique Lehigh Valley program is introducing young women to career opportunities in construction, an industry with plentiful job opportunities, but an under-representation of women in the workforce.
This summer, 27 girls ages 14 to 18 attended Lehigh Valley Let’s Build, a free camp that enables girls to explore career pathways in construction trades, project management, architecture, and engineering through hands-on experiences and visits to regional employers.
“Our message to these young women is that you can find a fit somewhere in construction,” said Kristen Fallon, Vice President of Membership Services for the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter. “The industry is changing, and Lehigh Valley is exploding with career opportunities. Many of our builders are looking to hire.”
The construction industry employs 11,000 people in the Lehigh Valley, with an average annual wage of nearly $52,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the last six months, Lehigh Valley employers posted 1,200 construction jobs in 46 different occupations.
The traditional male-dominance of construction jobs is confirmed by current labor data. Women make up only 3.5 percent of the labor force in construction locally, and less than 3 percent nationally.
The good news for young women interested in construction careers is that the industry has better pay equality that just about any sector of the U.S. economy. Across all occupations, women earn an average of 82 percent of what their male counterparts make, according to Department of Labor data for 2017. In construction occupations, however, women earn on average just as much as men.
Let’s Build, in its third year, has grown in registrations and attendance each year. Word of the unique nature of the program has spread: This year’s camp included girls from Wisconsin, Virginia, and western Pennsylvania.
Let’s Build has strong employer support as well, with more than 30 sponsoring businesses and more than 100 volunteers representing builders, construction trade organizations, career and technical education schools, architectural and engineering firms, and manufacturers from across Lehigh Valley.
One volunteer is Stan Dixon, building trades instructor at Bethlehem Area Vo-Tech School, the host site for Let’s Build.
“These young women have amazing work ethic,” Dixon said. “They are always here, always involved, always participating.”
He noted that one “graduate” of the 2017 Let’s Build camp who now works in the construction industry returned this year as a volunteer instructor.
Fallon describes the program as “planting seeds” in a proactive approach to address the industry’s future talent needs. But it’s more than teaching girls how to build frames, install plumbing and do masonry work. As the week progresses, girls grow in confidence and leadership as they grasp the possibilities available to them.
“We see transformations,” Fallon said, “which is so important for empowering young women in whatever career path they ultimately choose.”
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