BY LISA KOPOCHINSKI
A big thank you to Beth Barton, superintendent, Tarlton Corporation in St. Louis, a member of multiple AGC chapters; and Lauren Williams, BIM manager and MEP project manager for S.M. Wilson & Co. in St. Louis, an AGC of Missouri member, for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk about their work and what they love about the construction industry. Here is what they had to say:
WHAT MADE YOU CONSIDER A CAREER IN CONSTRUCTION?
Beth: I opened my mind to a change in careers when I could see that nursing was not a career I found engaging. When I became a single mom, I didn’t have the time it took to finish school before I started earning money. I asked myself a simple question, “What is it I like to do for fun?” My first answer was working in the automotive industry, but I found it also required training prior to working. Carpentry was my second interest. I picked up a phone book and started to call everyone under the “contractors” tab, looking for a job, until I found someone who directed me to the Carpenters Union. Lucky for me, this led directly into a great program where I was able to earn money while I learned a trade.
Lauren: I always excelled in math and science, so I knew I’d end up in an engineering- related field. I majored in civil engineering with a focus in structures at Stanford University in 2005 because I found buildings fascinating. By process of elimination, that left me in either design or construction. I hadn’t thought of construction until I’d been working as a structural engineer for a year and wasn’t finding my rhythm. I would always drive past jobsites and see construction company trailers with their big logos and thought I should consider moving over to the construction side since it would be more versatile and match my outgoing personality more than being a design engineer did.
WHAT IS YOUR SCOPE OF RESPONSIBILITIES?
Beth: I’m responsible for management and coordination of the various trades and subcontractors during a particular construction project. I’m also responsible for site safety, quality of work and communications between the project and the owner and architect. I also make sure company policies are carried out by everyone working here.
IF YOU WERE TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU STILL CHOOSE A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?
Beth: I would definitely choose this career all over again. If I would do anything differently, it would be to network with peers and to gain skills earlier on, and to work with myself to gain confidence faster, because being a woman apprentice is challenging.
Lauren: I would definitely still choose a career in this field. I thrive on complicated situations and am at my best when I’m problem solving.
HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED ANY PROBLEMS IN JUGGLING YOUR WORK LIFE WITH YOUR FAMILY/HOME LIFE?
Lauren: Yes! In fact, I have a one-year old, am seven months pregnant, and we just moved houses!* If I don’t write it down, there is a chance I’ll forget it. Luckily, I work for an amazing company that embraces family and work/life balance. There will be times I put in a 12-hour day, but other times where doctors’ appointments and rough days get the best of me, and I have to give in. Embrace that there are days you will be an awesome employee, and days you will be an awesome mother/wife/friend/sister/daughter/etc. Sometimes you get lucky and you’re good at both, and sometimes you’ll feel like you failed all around.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS STORY?
Lauren: Early in my career, I was fired from my first job in construction and told I had no business being in the industry. This was devastating. It was a firm that had a very sink-or-swim mentality, and they chose not to invest in me. Luckily now, I work for a company that chose to invest in me. Since taking over the BIM department, I was named one of ENR Midwest’s top 20 under 40 Class of 2016 and received the Construction Leadership Institute’s 2016 Alumni Leadership Award. I present nationally at conferences on construction technology, and speak locally at schools about STEM and women in construction. My greatest professional success story is explaining where I started, how quickly I fell, but how I was able to dust myself off and ignore the negative and wrong label that was assigned to me and turn myself into a leader in the construction industry.
WHAT ARE EFFECTIVE RECRUITMENT EFFORTS FOR WOMEN?
Lauren: A younger me wouldn’t have had much to comment here, but now that I am two kids in, here are my suggestions:
• Maternity leave: our industry is ANCIENT when it comes to maternity and paternity leave.
• Flex time: having the flexibility to put in your “eight hours” when you can. Whether that’s two hours at home in the morning before your 8 a.m. dentist appointment, then six-plus hours at the office … or whatever combination works.
• Wellness: mothers’ rooms (pumping/ breast milk storage), on-site gyms, etc. • Family perks: credits for holiday meals, sabbaticals, stipends for vacations, 529 account contributions.
• Healthcare: the amount your company covers/what is out of pocket for you as a single vs. family.
• 401(k) matching/contributions.
• Tuition reimbursement.
• Continuing education opportunities, private training, conferences, seminars, etc.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?
Lauren: Never stop learning and never assume you know everything. There will always be people who have been doing this longer or have more experience, and their input and contributions are something that can be learned from. No one likes a “know-it-all.” Be humble and listen.
Beth: Network with peers and get more skills training as early as you can.