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Megan Ross is an assistant superintendent for a large Maryland-based general contractor. Ross, a former architecture major, had realized she’d rather build structures than design them, and is now on construction sites every day, coordinating subcontractors and monitoring the progress of jobs.
At her first position out of college, she earned a salary of over $50,000; two years later she says, “I have friends in architecture who are making half of that.” The work is a joy, she says. “It’s one of the best careers you can have.”
Ross is part of an overlooked group that, with some assistance, could easily solve the construction industry’s labor shortage: women. Currently, women make up less than 3 percent of the construction workforce, which includes the building trades—hands-on jobs like carpentry, bricklaying, and electrical work—as well as management. If twice as many women worked in the field, the industry’s labor shortage would, according to data available from the U.S. Department of Labor, practically be wiped out.
And finding a solution to the ongoing worker shortage is crucial. Due to immigration crackdowns, economic after-effects of the late-aughts recession, and a lack of interest on the part of millennials, the field is down by 275,000 workers. That’s affecting housing costs, at a time when the country is already suffering from rising housing prices. Soon, even more workers will be needed: National Association of Homebuilders economist Stephen Melman predicts growth of 4-5 percent in housing starts next year, and an increase in construction-labor positions to the tune of 12 percent between 2016 and 2026.
With gender disparities narrowing in industries across the board, figuring out how to get more women into construction seems like a no-brainer. But there are a number of hurdles that first have to be overcome.
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