Camp breaks down gender stereotypes, inspires new career paths
Girl power is in full effect this week as 30 female students in central Iowa attend the annual Construction Camp for Girls. Sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines Public Schools and local business industry partners, students, ages 14-18, attend this free, five-day event to learn more about what construction can offer to women wanting to work in the field.
Photos of the event are available on Flickr.
“The main purpose of the camp is for career exploration in construction and for careers that are typically non-traditional for women,” said Jeanette Thomas, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “The camp offers a hands-on experience and exposes them to the many different areas in construction that they may not know about.”
Non-traditional jobs are defined as careers where 25 percent or less of one gender is employed. Girls who are interested in typically male-dominated careers such as architecture, engineering, manufacturing, plumbing, masonry and more begin each day at Central Campus in Des Moines to listen to and meet guest speakers from the construction industry and career and technical education (CTE) programs.
Recent Lincoln High School graduate and future Iowa State University freshman Luz Flores Maciel, 18, has career dreams of becoming an architect and has found the connections with female construction leaders insightful.
“The camp is helping me gain perspective on how to do this work better and easier,” she said. “I also really like how they want to be inclusive. Representation is important. It is motivating young girls to do what they want regardless of gender or age. They can start following their dreams right now.”
Afternoons at the camps are spent on construction-related field trips where the students have the opportunity to try different tools and techniques out for themselves.
Fifteen-year-old Moniya Brown, an incoming junior at Carlisle High School, signed up for the camp specifically because it offered these hands-on experiences. Her career path is aimed toward becoming a firefighter – another non-traditional career for women – and although it is outside the construction field, it uses some of the same tools and equipment. And already, she has found the experience useful for the exploration of her career path.
“I liked the welding,” she said. “It was a good learning environment. I liked how they broke down what they were doing and the benefits you can get from doing this type of work. They do everything to provide a space for hands-on learning. If I can apply what I’ve learned to firefighting, it will help me give back to the community.”
Business industry leaders have also benefited from the camp. Making connections with this potential source of future workers is highly desired, and they welcome more women to enter into this field.
“We want all youth to know that jobs don’t have genders,” said Steph Reed, a central Iowa homebuilder and realtor. “The current leaders and workers in the industry are aging, and we need to know that there are more people coming up in the field.”
During the camp, gender stereotypes are broken down and students gain valuable information on what this type of career path could offer to them as women.
“We’re trying to bust through the stereotype that construction is only for men,” Reed said. “Camps like this give girls the confidence, mentorship and connections they need to experience that.”
Both Luz and Moniya say that camp attendees are feeling empowered as women, too, and have high hopes for the future of construction and other non-traditional careers.
“I want to show other girls that you can do anything you want,” Moniya said. “Girls have the same strength as boys. They may not have the same muscles, but they have a place in the field. I want to show other girls you can do anything you want.”
The Construction Camp for Girls aligns with Future Ready Iowa and its goal of 70 percent of the state’s workforce having education or training beyond high school by 2025, with a focus on high-demand jobs. And Thomas is hopeful that camps and events like this one can continue to grow in size and scope in order to bring more awareness and empowerment to other Iowa girls.
“We are looking to scale this up even more,” she said. “We’re looking into other skilled trades areas and areas served by CTE. We’re hoping to move this into other parts of the state as well.”
The Construction Camp for Girls runs through July 2.