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Operating engineers celebrate Women in Construction Week by highlighting career opportunities

Operating engineers celebrate Women in Construction Week by highlighting career opportunities

BLOOMFIELD TWP, Mich. – Operating Engineers 324 celebrates national Women in Construction Week starting today, March 6, by highlighting rewarding career opportunities, the great infrastructure work being carried out by well-trained skillful professionals – and the many women operating engineers who are literally breaking new ground every day.

“Women are an important part of our construction workforce because they work hard, they get the job done and, as half of Michigan’s population, they’re meeting a huge demand for highly skilled workers,” said Lee Graham, Executive Director of OE324’s Labor Management Education Committee and Chair of the Michigan Apprenticeship Steering Committee, Inc (MASCI). “Through OE324’s registered apprenticeship programs, we are preparing men and women with the education, skills and experience they need to become the best construction professionals around. Thanks in large part to the growing number of women who are becoming operating engineers, we are building and improving Michigan’s critical infrastructure.”

Women in Construction Week promotes women’s role in the U.S. construction industry. This year’s theme, “Many paths, one mission,” celebrates the different journeys women have taken to be part of the construction workforce. In the process, many of them help amplify women’s success in construction, which has traditionally been viewed as an overwhelmingly men-dominated industry.

Kecia Harper, who started as an OE324 apprentice, now plays a leadership role on construction sites today as a fore(wo)man.

“I love coming in to work every day,” Harper said. “I love getting in that seat, getting in that machine and going down the road and watching things develop.”

Operating Engineers 324 partners with a number of groups encouraging and assisting women in finding paths into skilled trades careers, including Women In Skilled Trades (WIST), National Association of Women In Construction (NAWIC), and the pre-apprenticeship program Access For All.

OE324 Business Manager Doug Stockwell said: “The energy and focus women bring to the construction profession has truly made us better. Every day on our job sites, women are busting old stereotypes, performing all aspects of the job and making sure work gets done on budget and on time. They bring a spirit of inclusion and respect to our profession that all of us at OE324 value and appreciate.”

John Hartwell, OE324 Career and Outreach Representative, encourages more women to consider careers in construction.

“Through our registered apprenticeships, we can help anyone who wants to learn and work hard be the best in the construction field – men and women,” Hartwell said. “As women learn more about the construction industry, whether in high school or through our other outreach programs like Helmets to Hardhats, we want them to know that being an operating engineer is a pathway to building solid, lucrative careers for life.”

They include women like Jessica Knight, a veteran in the Army Reserve, who signed up as an apprentice after learning more about the Helmets to Hardhats program, a labor-management nonprofit that connects active-duty military service members with training and jobs in the construction sector.

“That’s how I became an apprentice,” Knight said. “I haven’t looked back since.”

For apprentice and Access For All graduate La’Tasha Smith, the training and education of becoming an operating engineer came with another benefit: Great pay and perks that allow her to comfortably support her family.

“I couldn’t believe that someone can make a living (operating) these machines and they can take care of their entire family,” Smith said. “The construction trades are open to women, we can do it, and it’s a nice skill set to have. We’re raising our families off of this career. We’re helping our community.”

Krystle Schnell is an instructor at the Operating Engineers 324 Construction Career Center, and former recipient of MASCI’s Apprentice of the Year award (2015). Now, she shares her knowledge advocating for more women to consider the industry. “Being an (Operating Engineers) 324 member has meant that I have the financial stability to raise three beautiful children. I am 100% confident that I can support my family.”

Rita Brown, President of the National Association of Women in Construction Capitol Area in Lansing, said: “Women in Construction Week is a great opportunity for our industry to spotlight the already significant contributions of women to our skilled trades workforce. We applaud visionary partners like Operating Engineers 324, who recognize that the future success of our industry is dependent on leveraging, attracting and retaining the talents and skills of women.”