Waco: Women in construction industry build their numbers

WACO, Texas (KWTX) Thursday was International Women's Day; a reminder to promote progress for women in the workforce. One unexpected industry in particular is recruiting women to fill a surplus of job openings.

Photo By: Chelsea Edwards

During Skillpoint Alliance's "Become a Hard-Hatted Woman" open house, speakers share their experiences from being a part of the eight percent of women working in the male-dominated construction industry.

Waco Program Director Mallory Herridge is talking to potential recruits about a career in the field of construction.

“A lot of women just didn't know that it would be possible for them to pursue a career in this,” she says.

Skillpoint Alliance offers free 8-week electrical, HVAC and pipe-fitting courses. Spokespeople for the non-profit say by 2020, there will be close to 100,000 open construction jobs in Central Texas.

“I'm able to do something that I love - it's just changed everything,” says Eliza Zapata.

She graduated from the program May 2017, started working in HVAC installations, and is now in Project Administration.

“I would love to see more women in the construction industry- not just in the office, but installing these units, doing electrical and framing," she says.

"I would love to inspire more women to do that.”

Enrollment of female students in construction programs at Texas State Technical College in Waco has gone from virtually zero to about 3.5 percent over the past five years.

Letha Novosad, Lead Instructor of Building Construction Technology says there are important positions that women can fill on construction sites, especially with their tendency to pay attention to detail.

That's one of the qualities that employers are looking for, in the surplus of positions they need to fill.

“Women are very detail-oriented, and I think it really helps," says Rhonda Nebgen, Senior Project Manager of Emerson Construction.

"You get high quality and a good and product."

The women admit there are challenges, from having to use 'port-o-potties' to finding the proper gear, but say there are ways of overcoming them.

“As long as you carry your head high and you know your stuff, you'll get respected,” says Nebgen. She recalls correcting someone on a construction site one day when they asked if she was there to bring lunch.

The women also say gathering with other female construction workers helps. Waco has a local chapter of the National Women in Construction group that meets every month.

With their support and a pathway to skills, they say there’s little reason not to get on board.

“When they find out the pay and what can be if you continue with that trade, it really starts to open up some conversations,” laughs Herridge.

According to Skillpoint, new workers can start at an average of $16 an hour, and in some specialties, end up with a six figure salary.