Girl power in full force at summer construction camp
The power of electricity isn’t just measured in watts. At this construction camp for girls, it’s also measured in enthusiasm.
“I enjoy working with my hands and building things,” said Haylee Flynn, a sophomore from Des Moines’ Hoover High School, who is building an ethernet cable during a tour this week of the Des Moines Electrical Apprenticeship’s training facility.
“I really wanted to go to this camp to give me more insight into construction and to see if I really want to do it,” Haylee said.
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That is exactly what the Iowa Department of Education and Des Moines Public Schools had in mind when they teamed up to sponsor the area’s first construction camp for girls. More than 30 female students from 14 area schools, ranging in age from 14 to 18, are exploring construction-related careers this week and learning how they aren’t just for the boys.
“It’s all about meaningful career exploration and encouraging students to explore opportunities that align to their interests,” said Jeremy Varner, the Department’s division administrator for community colleges and workforce preparation. “The purpose of the camp is to break down stereotypes, foster interest and expose students to in-demand opportunities where females have typically been underrepresented.”
Careers in the construction trades have been identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as “non-traditional” because females currently comprise less than 25 percent of those employed in the field.
“We are working to build up our skilled trade programs and expand opportunities for all students,” said Gretchen Watznauer, coordinator for student leadership and engagement at Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus.
“This camp empowers young women to be part of this high-skill, in-demand workforce and to see all the job opportunities available where they can use their skill sets in something that they enjoy. There are so many opportunities that many have never even thought of before.”
Steve Hansen, training director for the Des Moines Electrical Apprenticeship, said they support the camp because construction trades need more young people to enter the field to keep up with industry demand. Part of that includes breaking down old stereotypes that people have about careers in the trades.
“It is not like it was,” Hansen said. “These are highly technical jobs that require a strong aptitude in math and science. On the job they’ll be talking to engineers and architects and they have to be on the same playing field.
“This is another career path that pays well, the skills are transferable anywhere in the United States, you get education and training without the student loan debt, and you make money while you learn.”
Naomi Lawson, a journeyman electrician who just completed her five-year apprenticeship program last month, says it is time more girls see themselves in the construction trades.
“It is not just the great pay and benefits,” she said. “It’s the sense of accomplishment from a job well done. You get to be active and you aren’t in the same place all the time. On top of that, I save a lot of money doing work on my own home. You can’t beat it.”
Building awareness of Iowa’s high-demand jobs, including those in the skilled trades, is in line with ongoing efforts to redesign career and technical (CTE) education programs in the state and supports the Future Ready Iowa initiative, which calls for 70 percent of Iowa workers to have education or training beyond high school by 2025. Formerly known as vocational education, CTE consists of programs that integrate technical and academic skills with work-based learning experiences to better prepare students to succeed after high school, whether that be in the workforce or in postsecondary education.
During the week-long camp, students are touring other facilities and participating in hands-on activities in construction, carpentry, plumbing, and masonry, in addition to electrical work.
Sia Smith, an eighth grade student from Urbandale Middle School, originally signed up for the camp when her science camp encouraged her to participate. While she loves science and building things with her dad, it wasn’t something that she had thought about as a career.
“Yesterday we got to drill drywall and lay tile and today I’m bending conduit,” Sia said. “I never really thought of it before. But now when I look up, I will think more about what went into the wiring and construction.”
Going forward, the Department hopes to expand student camp opportunities across the state and into other non-traditional careers for both girls and boys.
I wanted to go to camp to explore my options for a rewarding career. I am going to be the first woman in my family to go to and graduate college.
I like to build and make things and this is a great opportunity.
I am seriously considering going into a trade so this camp is helping me explore different fields that I could go into.
Dallas Center Grimes
I, like many others, am considering pursuing a STEM career. This camp will help me get experience in the field I plan on going into.