Nailing it: Construction camp inspires girls
Twenty-three Des Moines metro middle and high school girls explored tools of the trade at a week-long summer camp aimed at exposing them to in-demand career opportunities in construction.
Sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines Public Schools, Homebuilders of Iowa and Turner Construction, the Construction Camp for Girls is helping to break down stereotypes, foster interest and expose students to in-demand career opportunities where females have traditionally been underrepresented.
“We have a shortage of workers in the skilled trades in Iowa and across the country,” said Jeremy Lindquist, training director for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33 in Des Moines. “To build our talent pipeline, we need to reach students at a younger age and show them that these are high-demand, good-paying jobs.”
Women account for less than 10 percent of all U.S. construction workers and just over 12 percent of all construction workers in Iowa. The camp aims to introduce girls to careers that they might never have considered.
Raising awareness of high-demand jobs, such as those in the skilled trades, is in line with the Future Ready Iowa initiative, which is about growing a skilled workforce statewide by connecting Iowans to the education and training needed for rewarding careers.
“I didn’t realize all that is involved,” said Jaci Menke, a sophomore at Ankeny High School. “I took a construction class last year and I am thinking about going into architecture. I thought the camp would help me understand all the parts.”
The students spent each morning at Des Moines Public School Central Campus to learn more about work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities and to hear from women who are working in construction fields. Each afternoon, the students focused on a different skilled trade, toured partner facilities and participated in hands-on activities in construction, carpentry, plumbing, masonry and electrical.
Kyra Saragaglia, who teaches math at Johnston Middle School, said that the hands-on activities really help students connect classroom learning to the world of work.
“The students don’t ask ‘when will I ever use this?’ Through the camp activities, they see firsthand how applied math makes sense,” Saragaglia said.
Hearing from women in the field is important to help students see how careers in construction aren’t just for the boys. Kiya Boozell, a fourth-year apprentice with the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33, said students need to see that there are multiple pathways to success.
After earning her associate degree, Kiya enrolled in a welding class at Des Moines Area Community College. Her instructor saw her potential and encouraged her to check out the plumbers and steamfitters.
“After I graduated from high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Kiya said. “My welding instructor was instrumental in getting me to see that I could make a career in the skilled trades. It is good for the younger generation to see that college is one option, but not the only option to gain the skills and knowledge needed for a rewarding career.”
Students whose interests are piqued are encouraged to continue to explore the skilled trades by taking more math and technical courses through high school, all of which help prepare them for the job. Ultimately, this can help fill Iowa’s skilled worker shortage, too.
For Summer Haltom, a freshman at North High School in Des Moines, family members working in the trades encouraged her to learn more. The camp is helping her to explore those interests.
“My teacher told me about the camp, but my brother really got me interested. He has taken classes in auto mechanics and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC),” Summer said. “I really just wanted to learn more, and the hands-on experiences have been great.”
For students who decide to explore the skilled trades after high school, Lindquist said these good-paying jobs are just waiting to be filled.
“We need more skilled workers now more than we ever have,” Lindquist said. “Not only are these good-paying jobs, they are the jobs that keep Iowa running.”
View more images from the event at our Flickr gallery.