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Changing Perceptions:  The NCCER and Efforts to Increase the Role of Tradeswomen

Changing Perceptions:  The NCCER and Efforts to Increase the Role of Tradeswomen

By Luke Carothers

There is a widely-recognized need in the AEC industry for a higher representation of women at all levels.  Across the industry, there have been efforts to increase the number of women in the construction industry, and these efforts have increased this number from the reported 9 percent in 2003.    Within the construction industry, historical trends suggest that–despite strides in increasing the number of women in managerial, technical, and administrative roles–the number of women working in craft construction positions is still less than 4 percent.

One way of improving the number of women in craft work positions is to approach it as a question of perception.  According to Tim Taylor, Director of Research for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), research indicates that work needs to be done to impact women’s perceptions of construction as a career field in order to attract more women.  NCCER is a nonprofit 501c3 educational foundation that was created in 1996.  NCCER exists with the goals of building a safe, productive, and sustainable workforce of craft professionals by providing universally recognized training, assessment, certification, and career development for construction and maintenance craft professionals.   To improve the number of women in the construction trades, Taylor and the NCCER believe that employers need to focus on five areas: improving jobsite culture, providing training, providing flexibility for family responsibilities, highlighting construction craft opportunities to young women, and developing and sponsoring women into field leadership roles.

Based on the current industry demographics, the unique qualities women bring to the construction jobsite are vastly underrepresented.  The NCCER held focus groups over the Summer of 2022 and asked women in the construction industry about these untapped unique qualities.  176 tradeswomen from the US and Canada participated in the research.  These focus were facilitated by Dr. Mittie Cannon to bring a level of comfort and openness to the discussions.  The focus groups were recorded and transcribed to analyze the data using content analysis.  This content analysis allowed the research team at the NCCER to summarize and analyze, at a macro level, the deep, rich data that was collected from the focus group discussions.

Among the most frequent responses these tradeswomen gave had to do with women being caring, supportive, having attention to detail, being good at keeping an orderly jobsite, and improving safety.  These women also emphasize a tendency amongst their colleagues to focus on individual achievement rather than the overall performance of the crew.  Women, on the other hand, were reported to focus on making sure that the whole team was functioning at a high level.  According to Taylor, this attention to detail spreads beyond the technical aspects of the job into the emotional health of the team.  These unique benefits were not just identified by the women themselves.  Members of project management teams also participated in separate focus groups.  The unique qualities they noted matched those offered by the tradeswomen.  Additionally, management stated that women were much more focused on following the work process as designed.

This research is evidence that closing the gender gap in the construction trades is not simply an issue of quantity, but rather one of need.  Increasing the number of women in the construction trades will lead to positive results in terms of technical processes and emotional health.  To start improving these numbers, Taylor believes that the first step is making women aware of opportunities offered within the construction industry.  Traditionally, women are not exposed to construction as a career, so many are unaware of the opportunities.  This belief extends to communicating down to elementary and middle school girls.  Once these girls are interested, they need to be provided accessible training to prepare them for success.  

For Taylor and the NCCER, the current moment is perfect to begin enacting these programs.  The United States is embarking on several significant efforts to re-shore manufacturing, transition to electric vehicles, and decarbonize energy production.  Taylor believes that, if we are going to accomplish these generation-defining goals as a nation, we need women actively participating in the construction industry.  

The NCCER’s full guidance document will be available during Women in Construction Week (March 5-11, 2023).  For more information and updates, please visit the NCCER’s social media accounts.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.