Building a better future: Three women on why they chose the construction industry

For one week every year the construction industry comes together to celebrate Women in Construction (WIC) Week. During this week, women in various roles are highlighted for their accomplishments. This helps bring awareness to the impact women are making in the industry. The event runs Sunday, March 1 through Saturday, March 7 and WIC Week is sponsored by National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).

“Looking at the industry even five years ago, it’s slowly changing. You are seeing more women pursue a career in construction.”

- Jennifer Lee, Marketing Coordinator for TRC

Locally, at Three Rivers Corporation (TRC), women hold many different roles from leadership, architect, accounting, marketing, office, and field positions. The Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau, found that women comprised 57 percent of the workforce participation in 2018. Of that, women make up 10 percent of the construction industry in the U.S.

Those statistics are on the rise – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11 percent increase in the construction field between 2018 and 2028.

Here's a look at three local women creating their own path.

Bringing a different perspective

Shannon Tait works as the Manager of Commercial Projects for Three Rivers Corporation (TRC) and has been with the company for eight years. She attended Michigan Technological University graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

“I vividly remember my first job, I was working with a large construction company and running a big project. I’m at the head of the table in the job trailer running a meeting as a young twenty-something female, fresh out of college, surrounded by all of these rough and gruff construction types. And I was scared to death, but I did it! Since then, the number of women in the industry has only grown,” says Tait.

Shannon Tait, Manager of Commercial Projects at TRC.

The construction industry on a whole employs many more men than women, but just like other industries, companies are quick to notice the benefits of a diverse workforce and the number of women is on the rise.

When she first began working in the construction industry in the 1980s, Tait says there were not many women doing project management.

“I remember early on in my career at a pre-bid meeting, and there were probably 60 people there, and all were men, except me. The room was packed, standing room only, there are empty seats on either side of me,” says Tait, “No one would sit next to me because I was a woman. Now there is much more acceptance that women have a place here.”

Tait says that being a woman in the construction industry has pushed her to work beyond her expectations to improve her skills.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 11% increase in the construction field between 2018 and 2028.

“It inspired me to work harder throughout my career to overcome that bias,” Tait says. “And through pushing myself harder, it has given me a strong skillset, great problem-solving ability, and the capability to adapt to different challenges. As a project manager, your main focus is solving problems. Over the years, it has been really fun and empowering to tackle that.” She also notes that women inherently have a different perspective when it comes to assessing issues, and that is a good thing, creating opportunities for better solutions.

That development has led Tait to work on some of TRC’s biggest and most complex projects like Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens, historically significant customers like the Alden B. Dow Home and Studios, Shelterhouse, and multiple projects round the region.

“Having that motivation to work hard in this industry – male or female – has helped equip me with the tools to grow in order to take on some of our more challenging projects,” says Tait.

Looking at the industry even five years ago, it’s slowly changing and more women pursue a career in construction.

A rise in demand for skilled labor

“Looking at the industry even five years ago, it’s slowly changing,” says Jennifer Lee, Marketing Coordinator for TRC. “You are seeing more women pursue a career in construction.”

A study conducted by McKinsey & Company in January 2018 found that a financial performance can be positively affected by the gender diversity among executive roles. The study found that construction companies with women in executive roles are 21 percent more likely to outperform competitors.

“Being a woman, I bring a very different perspective,” says Tait. “It’s often different then the men that I work with, but it’s a valuable perspective and it opens up the possibilities of additional solutions.”

Making the switch to a different career path

The possibility for development opportunities also motivated Amanda Dimercurio to leave her previous job to pursue a career path in the construction industry.

Amanda Dimercurio, carpenter apprentice at TRC.

Dimercurio attended Delta College for nearly two years hoping to become a police officer. Unable to receive financial aid due to her parent’s income level, Dimercurio had to leave school and find a job.

“I was out on my own and I couldn’t afford it, so that dream went out the window,” says Dimercurio. “Then I saw the option for trade school and I thought it was affordable to pursue,” she says. “It’s been a good fit because I like to work with my hands, plus a trade is a valuable skill you’ll have for the rest of your life.”

Dimercurio attends school at Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) and is currently a carpenter apprentice at TRC. She hopes to take what she learns to someday help revitalize properties in Saginaw, her hometown.

“There is so much opportunity to rehabilitate buildings and homes and use them for good,” says Dimercurio. “So, beyond learning a skill and working in a growing field, I’d also like to take those talents and make an impact in my hometown at some point.”

Women in Construction (WIC) Week runs March 1-7.

Dimercurio, who is expecting a child with her wife, also hopes to use her acquired skills to inspire her child in the future.

“I want my kid to be proud of their mom for getting out there. I want to teach them how to build things,” Dimercurio says. “Just to eventually be able to say to them, ‘I’m going out to the garage’ and have them ask to come out with me.”

Building a career to love

A few short years ago, Amanda Parks was feeling unfulfilled working in her office job. After having a conversation with a neighbor about the GMCA, Parks quit her job to attend school at GMCA and is now a plumber apprentice at Three Rivers.

Amanda Parks, plumber apprentice at TRC.

“Even before I got done with my first year of school I was hired by TRC and when I found out that they pay for most of the schooling, I was sold on choosing this as a new career path,” says Parks. “Now, I can actually get an education in an in-demand field and get paid while completing my degree – I have everything I need.”

“The core classes are really helpful in choosing your path, because they give you the opportunity to try different skills and figure out if that’s really what you want to do,” says Parks. “It helped me understand I like to be active and constantly learning things.”

Translating the classroom learning at GMCA into her role is also something that Parks has found beneficial.

Translating the classroom learning at GMCA into her role is also something that Parks has found beneficial in her role as a plumber.

“On site, the journeyman will show you, at least once, and then we get to actually do it on our own,” she says. “And if we ever have any questions we can just ask them for input. It’s been a really good learning experience because we can relate what we’re studying to actually doing it on the job each day.”

Parks says the prospect of a career and a better future for her son encouraged her to make the change.

“I don’t regret my decision whatsoever because I have a 7-year-old, and he is following in my footsteps a little bit,” says Parks. “He’ll tell his friends his mom is a plumber; he’s proud of me. It makes me push myself even harder. He needs to know that even me being a woman in this type of career, you can do anything."

Dimercurio, Tait and Parks are part of the growing number of women involved in the construction industry.

There are numerous reasons why there aren’t as many women as men in the construction industry, but that doesn't mean we should discourage women from pursuing construction careers. And we should recognize, acknowledge and celebrate those (both men and women) working to make a difference for women in a male-dominated industry.

Make sure you take time this week to recognize and highlight women in the construction industry.

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