More women needed to fill pipeline in trades professions

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More women needed to fill pipeline in trades professions

By Katherine Michalets, of SBT

When people think of women in construction, they may think of a muscular woman wearing an orange hat working on a dirty and dusty construction site. In reality, women play many diverse roles in the construction industry, everything from salesperson and accountant to architect and carpenter.
The trouble is, there just aren’t enough of them, according to Karen Stempski, the recently elected president of National Association of Women in Construction-Milwaukee Chapter (NAWIC).
"It is such a small field of women out there. It is nice to have something in common with people in the construction industry and related fields," said Stempski, who is a finance assistant at Black Diamond Group Inc., Oak Creek, an asphalt producer and contracting business.
The Milwaukee chapter of NAWIC was founded in 1965, 10 years after the national organization was formed. The Milwaukee chapter has 36 members, including architects, engineers, business owners and tradeswomen.
The majority of the members hold professional and sales positions.
"We want to get more tradeswomen into our chapter," Stempski said. "Two percent of women in construction are tradeswomen."
Trade jobs include carpenters, laborers or operators.
The building trades profession is short on the next generation of qualified candidates, Stempski said.
As president, Stempski wants to continue with the tradition of placing a strong emphasis on education. In particular, she wants to work with students in elementary and high school.
"Guidance counselors don’t steer a lot of women toward the construction field," she said.
NAWIC is trying to reach a new crop of tradespeople by talking to students and their parents, holding career talks at high schools and addressing Boys and Girls’ Clubs.
Stempski believes that many people have the wrong opinion of construction. "We try to explain to them that they have to be smart to be in the construction industry," she said.
One event that Stempski and her chapter support is Block Kids, a building contest for first through sixth grades. Each student is given 100 Legos and some building materials. The winning student is awarded a prize and can move on to the next level of competition.
"It’s such a craft that you have to learn. So we get kids to create with their hands," said Stempski..
NAWIC educates its members as well. The Milwaukee chapter has guest speakers at monthly meetings. Members can go on tours of construction sites and learn about the process from the builders.
Mentoring is another important aspect of NAWIC.
"I think people join because they want a relationship with other people in the field. They want to network with other people in the Milwaukee area," said Stempski.
While NAWIC members receive mentoring and inspiration from each other, they also are giving back to the community. The Milwaukee chapter’s members buy gifts for two group homes in Milwaukee in the Respect for People program.
They also help local female college students who are pursuing careers in related fields by awarding five $1,000 scholarships each year.
In her one-year term as president, Stempski hopes membership will increase and women will become more involved in the construction industry.

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Oct. 31, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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