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Camp NAWIC Inspires High School Girls to Pursue Careers in Construction

Thursday, May 10, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Hilary Korabik
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Camp NAWIC Inspires High School Girls to Pursue Careers in Construction
by Michaelann Agoranos of Constructing Opportunity


Women make up almost 50% of the US workforce, yet only represent 9% of the construction industry.  The construction industry is facing a looming labor shortage, the average age of the US construction worker is 48 with retirement just around the corner, the lack of high school vocational programs and the stigma of a career in construction are all working against the industry.  There are many efforts underway to spread the message that a career in construction is a viable, well paying option. One such effort being undertaken by the Chicago Metro Chapter of NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction), is Camp NAWIC. 


Camp NAWIC is a free, one-week, day camp designed to introduce female high school students to the wide variety of careers in the construction industry and to showcase female role models working in the industryTo ensure diverse participation, Chicago Metro partnered with the Joliet Township High Schools to offer Camp NAWIC to the girls enrolled in the JTHS Stem Academy. Fourteen students signed up and all completed Camp. 



The week was planned to showcase a variety of NAWIC members and their companies. Before officially beginning camp, Brittany Long, Safety Director, Blinderman Construction, presented a safety briefing. Blinderman donated the Personal Protective Equipment and the girls learned how to assemble their hard hats and the importance of safety goggles and high visibility vests. The PPE was a highlight of the week as we were greeted each morning with “Do we get to wear our PPE today?” The girls kept their PPE as one of their many camp souvenirs. 


On Monday we visited both V3 Engineering and Wight Co Architects. At V3 the campers met women engineers employed at all levels of the organization, who shared what they do daily as a civil engineer. At Wight & Co, they heard from the architect who led a Nature Center Building project for the Naperville Park District, not only was the architect a woman, but the project manager and owner’s representatives were also female. They were also treated to a tour of the Wight offices, including a visit to the materials room where they could see a bit of the work that went into making finish selections for projects. 


On Tuesday, we traveled to the ComEd training center in Bridgeport. At ComEd they observed future lineman learning to climb poles, met the only female splicer in Chicago and heard from a panel of women supervisors within ComEd. They particularly enjoyed interacting with our “tour guide”ComEd Supervisor of Overhead Construction and retired WNBA player Keila T. Beachem.  


Wednesday found us at the Carpenters Training Facility, where training coordinator and master carpenter Kina McAfee shared her story. Kina led a tour of the facility, pointing out the wide variety of options within the carpentry profession. The students were able to observe apprentices in action, installing ceiling grid, laying out walls and putting down flooring. In addition, the students constructed their own toolboxes, with instruction from Kina, to take home. 


On Thursday, Ozinga welcomed the campers and we began our visit with a chat with Justin Ozinga, who talked about the fact that the next generation of Ozingas are primarily women! The students followed an order from intake in the customer service center to dispatch in the redi-mix truck. They also experienced quality control first hand, performing slump tests, breaking test cylinders and mixing up concrete by hand. 


We finished the week by visiting two of Walsh Construction’s jobsites. At both sites female project managers were front and center leading the tour and sharing their experiences. They were placing concrete at one site and the testing company was on-site casting cylinders. It gave us the perfect opportunity to tie the week together, starting with the need for engineers and architects in the design phase, working with ComEd to ensure temporary electric during construction, carpenters forming the concrete walls and the concrete being placed


The girls had a great time and we were especially heartened when we returned to JTHS earlier this year and learned last year’s participant who hadn’t graduated, were excited to sign up again. 


This camp would not be possible without the generous support of the Chicagoland construction industry. We couldn’t do it without the companies that host the campersTo keep the camp free to the students, NAWIC Chicago Metro holds a fundraiser during Women in Construction week, this year more than 200 industry professionals attended. It was a tremendous response to our request to “support Camp NAWIC”.  As a result of that event, camp will continue to be free and we can increase the number of participants this year.


Planning for Camp NAWIC 2018 is well underwaywe can’t wait to see how it turns out. 


About the author: Michaelann Agoranos is a co-founder of Constructing Opportunity, LLC, which is the industry's premier provider of leadership development and mentoring programs, diversity awareness and people skills training. The organization emphasizes increasing the number of women in management positions at all levels across the industry. Agoranos brings 25 years of experience in the industry, holds a BA in Architectural Studies and an MBA. In her previous career she led Leadership Development and skill based training for the Restaurant Development function of the McDonald’s Corporation. Currently chapter Secretary and board member for the Chicago Metro chapter of National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Midwest Regional Block Kids Chairperson for NAWIC, and a member of the Federation of Women Contractors (FWC).


Interested in learning more? Constructing Opportunity founders Michaelann Agoranos and Peggy Newquist will be presenting on the importance of company culture at our May 16 Spring Summit. Register here. 


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