Pioneers wanted: Mentorship program will prepare women to make creative impact in construction industry
October 2, 2008
The way Heather Cavitt sees it, her career choice offers not only an opportunity to land good jobs but a role in breaking new ground in her chosen field.
Cavitt, a senior working toward a degree in construction management from Arizona State University’s Del E. Webb School of Construction, will soon be looking to enter one of the most traditionally male-dominated industries.
“I don’t have a problem with that,” she says. In fact, she considers it an advantage.
Construction industry leaders realize the value of hiring people “who are strong and willing to take on challenges,” she says, and simply by virtue of pursuing a career in what is certain to remain a predominantly male domain, females demonstrate those qualities.
Now Cavitt and other women in the construction school, a part of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, can give themselves another advantage: Learning from pioneering women who have already risen to leadership positions in the business.
The school recently established its Advancing Women in Construction program, a key part of which is a mentorship project. More than 70 women – and several men – in the construction industry in the greater Phoenix area have signed on to mentor female students and provide them an inside look at life in the industry.
The program will not only benefit students but help rejuvenate an industry in need of a new wave of young professionals, says Carol Warner, president and chief operating officer for Johnson Carlier, a third-generation, Arizona-based construction contracting company.
“As an industry, we are concerned about the future of our profession,” says Warner, who has worked in construction for close to 25 years. “There is a shortage of professional builders and people in skilled trades. We need more fervent workforce development.”
Women are uniquely skilled in communication, organization and team-building – areas that are becoming increasingly critical to the industry, she says.
“People who can combine those skills with technical knowledge gained at ASU’s school of construction are going to be pursued by construction companies throughout the country,” Warner says. “My peers in the industry are anxious to support, train and commit to bringing more women into their workforce.
The industry “continues to need qualified people, and one of the more underutilized talents pools is women,” says Rozlyn Lipsey, president of Phoenix-based Jokake Construction company.
Companies are supporting the school’s new mentorship program as an investment in ensuring themselves quality employees and leaders for the future, Lipsey says.
That commitment is demonstrated by more than 30 construction and construction-related companies, as well as industry groups, that have donated to the school’s Advancing Women in Construction scholarship program. The goal is to eventually provide women who enter the school with $1,000 scholarships for each of their first two academic years, provided they meet certain eligibility requirements.
It’s part of a plan to increase female enrollment from less than 15 percent of total enrollment to 30 percent – or about 200 female students – within five years.
Cavitt says her favorite things about the school’s construction management program are the opportunities to learn beyond the classroom, such as internships and building-project competitions between construction students at other universities.
She expects the mentoring program to add significantly to the value of her college education. “I’m excited to learn about the real-world business of construction from women who have been successful at it for many years,” she says.
Cavitt has been paired with mentors Crystal Slawson, president of Phoenix Pipelines, and Natalie Palmer, the company’s project coordinator.
Slawson has been in the business for more than two decades “and I’m still passionate about it,” she says. “Whenever you’re passionate about something, you want to share the experience. I hope to open students’ eyes to the possibilities and opportunities available to them.”
The mentorship program can be invaluable especially for preparing women for a demanding work environment, Slawson says. “Some of the best advice I ever received was from my mother, who encouraged me to continue to ‘be a lady’ in man’s world,” she recalls. “I think it’s good for female students to see examples of someone outside of the stereotype of what people would expect a woman in construction to be like.”
Besides career coaching and advice, students will have opportunities to shadow mentors on the job, network with business owners, executives and skilled trade workers, and begin scouting for internship and job possibilities.
The program is tailored to meet students’ changing needs as they progress through college.
Freshman-year mentoring is geared to helping students acclimate to college and its demands, and to building relationships with mentors. Sophomore year is devoted to exposing students to industry groups and job options.
Internship searches and career development planning starts in the junior year. Job-hunting will be a focus of senior year.
“Our goal is 100 percent job placement,” Lipsey says.
Mentors can give students the chance to experience the differences of working with a large company compared to a small company, or working for a construction trade contractor compared to general construction contractor, she explains.
“Each company is different, and exposing students to different kinds of company cultures will give them a better idea of the career directions that best fit them,” Lipsey says.
“I think they are going to see that this is an increasingly diverse and sophisticated industry of people who thrive on creativity and challenges and contribute a lot to the community,” she says. “Plus it’s a business in which people can be well paid and rewarded.”
# # #
Contributors to the Advancing Women in Construction Scholarship Program include:
Achilles Air Conditioning
Adolphson & Peterson Construction
American Concrete Institute
Associated of General Contractors Board of Directors
Arizona Builders Alliance
Arizona Chapter – American Concrete Institute
Construction Financial Management Association
Minard-Ames Insurance Services
National Association of Women in Construction
Opus West Construction
Southwest Architectural Builders