Job Front: Women find opportunities in construction fields

There was a time not that long ago, Karen Hansen mused Saturday, that she would be hard-pressed to find five women to sit on a panel on construction.

The California State University, Sacramento, construction management professor then turned to female Sacramento State graduates who went on to careers working with steel and concrete, on bridges and with computer technology as project managers, estimators and engineers.

They gathered Saturday – International Women’s Day – for the Women’s Forum on Construction at Sacramento State. The event was part of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Career Day at the campus. More than 80 firms represented at the fair were on the lookout for talented interns and prospective employees.

Hansen was joined on the panel by program manager Linda Brown, senior estimator Marina Burke and project manager Jaime Cochran as well as Tracy Young, co-founder and chief operating officer of a construction software start-up, and Alyssa Zayas, a newly minted project engineer. Together, they implored employers to hire more women for careers in construction and encouraged other women to follow in their footsteps.

Barriers, they said, are giving way to opportunity.

“I actually think companies are looking for women,” said Burke, a senior estimator at San Leandro-based Olson Steel. “There’s opportunity. They want to hire women.”

About 10 percent of the university’s 200-student Department of Construction Management are women, department officials said. Forum organizers want to add at least 15 women to the ranks in the 2014-15 academic year.

The forum comes as hiring in the construction industry reached its highest level since June 2009, the Associated General Contractors of America trade group announced Friday.

Construction employment totaled more than 5.9 million nationwide in February. The sector’s jobless rate fell to 12.8 percent from 15.7 percent a year earlier, the trade group reported, but workers are fleeing the industry and association officials worry about finding new talent to stem the tide.

“Unless we find a way to get more students to consider and train for careers in construction, many firms will get to a point where they don’t have enough workers to keep pace with demand,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, in a statement announcing the group’s findings.

“The last thing the hard-hit construction industry needs is to be unable to take advantage of increasing demand because of the decreasing supply of available workers,” Sandherr said.

The group called on local, state and federal officials to make it easier for schools, companies and construction groups to create training programs.

And at Sacramento State, officials from a number of local construction firms were in the crowd showing their support for women in construction and hanging the “help wanted” shingle.

Young used the opportunity to drive the message home.

“I see senior project managers, construction managers in the audience supporting us,” said Young, chief operating officer at PlanGrid. “The industry is here to give you jobs if you want them.”

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