Construction experience for girls promotes female interest in STEM careers

The girls and young women between the ages of 5 and 18 wore hard hats and set off on Saturday hammering nails, making concrete molds and driving diggers past a Roanoke construction company.

The event, the GIRL (Girls in Real Life) Building Experience, was hosted by the Virginia Skyline Branch Group and Girl Scouts. It was designed to provide real-life, kid-friendly experiences covering all facets of building.

Aisha Jackson, EEO, economic inclusion and diversity specialist for Branch Group, said the company wants young women to understand that there is a place for them in the construction field.

“They shouldn’t hesitate, because it’s as much for women as it is for men,” Johnson said. “Fifty-three percent of the construction workforce nationwide is set to retire by 2036. We really need to hire a lot of different people into construction to fill these jobs, and we would like to focus on women as well as men.”

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“While a recent milestone was reached in 2022, with 1 million women working in construction, the industry still lags behind other industries,” according to a press release from Saturday’s event. “Women make up just 14.1% of the workforce, and many of those jobs are still in traditional female positions, such as accounting, marketing, sales and administration.”

Nikki Williams, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline, said that by the time girls enter high school, less than 12% will consider a career in STEM.

“As early as second grade, girls are known to say that math and science are actually areas for boys, and they’re not good at them,” Williams said. “We think part of that challenge is access, so it really gives girls an opportunity to start, from a young age all the way up, to have hands-on experience, to understand that all of these areas are open to them.”

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Saturday’s event at the Branch Group headquarters on Peters Creek Road Northwest had approximately 100 pre-registered attendees and featured activities at booths sponsored by approximately 20 other organizations, City of Salem schools and the Kids Square Children’s Museum at the Build Smart Institute and Carter CAT.

As participants performed age-appropriate activities, they received a sticker – or “badge” – to stick on a white helmet. Girls could fly drones, take a virtual reality tour of a construction site, and soar through the sky on an aerial lift.

Maggie Jackson, now a recruiter for the Branch Group, had never worked in construction until about two years ago.

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“I don’t come from a construction background, but now that I’m in construction, I can’t imagine not being a part of it,” Jackson said. “It’s been really exciting to see all of these girls coming in and having the opportunity to see all of the industry options and the opportunities that are available to them as they hopefully consider their future in construction. “

Tiffany Purdham, 40, of Blue Ridge, brought two of her daughters to the event, which she thanked the Branch Group for organizing.

“They like to build things. They build things with their dad all the time,” Purdham said. “It’s not just for guys. Girls can do whatever they want to do.

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