Summer is over, and young adults across the country are headed back to school—one more step toward graduation and making decisions about “what’s next.” Despite making up almost half of today’s US workforce, women face a challenge in choosing career paths that can help them overcome the ever-present gender pay gap. Surprisingly, there’s one male-dominated sector where women are flipping the script and finding both great job opportunities and better pay parity: Construction.
Construction remains one of the best-kept secrets in rewarding career options for women. The best part is that these opportunities are abundant for job-seekers with or without a college degree. Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association, estimates that 440,000 construction workers need to be hired in 2019 just to keep up with the current demand for projects. Nearly 60% of ABC contractor members expected to increase staffing levels in the second half of this year, and from apprentices and craft professionals to project managers and executives, the number of women working in the US construction industry is on the rise.
My experience is proof. My high school guidance counselor suggested I shift my focus away from college liberal arts majors and apply for engineering programs, noting my aptitude for math and science. I selected a five-year architectural engineer undergraduate program at Penn State, where I specialized in construction management—which comprises the planning, design, safety, quality control and execution of construction projects—and where I was one of the few women students in this major.
After graduation, I was hired by a national construction firm on a project management education track. In this program, I spent time both in the field and in an office working in all facets of the construction business, including scheduling, purchasing estimating, project management and business development. Today I am the president of Poole Anderson Construction, a regional construction company headquartered in Central Pennsylvania.
While I took the college path to joining the industry, there are many ways to start a career in construction no matter your level of education. For craft professionals, the construction industry offers an earn-while-you-learn model, which allows people to both get started and advance in construction careers without incurring hefty student loan debt. There are many education routes as well, including technical schools and apprenticeship programs, which provide the skills needed to succeed as a craft professional while also working hands-on in the field.
Whether you’re a craft professional or part of a management team, construction is not just a job, but a well-paying career with competitive salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average national annual salary for construction trades workers is nearly $50,000 a year, and for those in a management role, salaries average $103,000 annually. Additionally, the construction industry has a significantly lower gender pay gap compared to other professions. While the BLS reported that, on average, women across all U.S. industries made 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man in 2018, women made 97 cents to the dollar in the construction trades.
In addition to competitive salaries and opportunities for growth, construction employees report high job satisfaction, since they can pursue their passions and perform meaningful work building America’s communities from coast to coast. Commercial and industrial construction projects also employ some of the most exciting technologies emerging today, transforming the old stereotype that construction is a ‘dirty business’. From drones and 3D printing to robotics and augmented reality, construction innovators are finding new ways to plan and build everything from manufacturing plants to the world’s most inventive skyscrapers more quickly, cost-effectively and safely than ever before.
Women have made strides in construction and other typically male-dominated industries, but more can be done to expose young women to these types of career options. Guidance counselors, teachers, parents and industry professionals alike need to do a better job of recruiting young women to college majors that feed into construction and other STEM fields. At the same time, we must do a better job of promoting careers in the trades and put jobs obtained through skills-based education on a level playing field with jobs obtained by baccalaureate degrees, especially as outstanding student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year.
Whether you’re a woman starting college, joining the workforce for the first time or considering changing professions, a career in construction offers ample opportunities to achieve the American dream. To learn more about construction career opportunities, visit workforce.abc.org.
About the author: Stephanie Schmidt is president of Poole Anderson Construction in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Northeast Region Chair of Associated Builders and Contractors.