A program to encourage young girls to pursue careers in the construction trade that started in the Lehigh Valley is going national, and organizers are excited to bring their vision to other communities across the country.
Greater Lehigh Valley CSI, the local chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute began the “Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls” in 2017, connecting girls in the region with local professionals in construction, architecture, engineering and other building trades.
In the camp, they learned how to use tools and equipment and even completed a construction project, such as building a shed, which would then be donated to someone who needed it.
Jon Lattin, co-founder of the Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls said the idea began simply.
“Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls started as a vision to introduce young girls to the AECM (Architecture Engineering and Construction Management) industry,” he said. “It was designed to allow them to explore this industry through hands on experiences and field trips and it has been an overwhelming local success in these regards.”
The camp’s other co-founder, Kristen Fallon, said it’s important for people in the building trades to reach out to these young girls.
“The Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls is a tool for others to utilize to help our industry grow, and for young women to know they have amazing opportunities ahead of them in the construction industry,” she said.
The camp’s efforts generated enough buzz to catch the eye of the national CSI institute Foundation,
which is now providing funding and support so that other CSI chapters, and other organizations, can bring the career-building program to their communities.
Velma Hart, COO of the national CSI, was impressed by what the camp was accomplishing.
She said the building trades are in the same situation as many industries in that the baby boomer generation is retiring at a quick pace and it’s hard to find young, skilled and experienced people to replace them.
It was clear that the industry wasn’t reaching out to people at a young enough age to get them interested in the building trades, she said. The camp not only reached a younger demographic – girls under 18 – it opened construction career training up to women, which has always been traditionally focused on men.
“It’s an intentional effort to address diversity in the industry,” Hart said.
She said the camp isn’t just about teaching young girls how to wield a hammer, but creating an atmosphere where they feel a part of something.
“The experience is unifying and gratifying, being surrounded by other interested girls and young women,” she said.
Paige Knowles, a past participant in the camp, agreed.
“I got way more out of this camp then I ever expected. Not only did I learn more about the different career paths and get hands on experience, I kept coming back because of the empowering atmosphere created by staff,” she said.
While the foundation just rolled out the program nationally, Hart said word leaked that it was coming and there has already been a strong response from other CSI chapters that want to organize their own Let’s Build camps. Five groups have contacted her for more information so far, and she expects many more to come in now that it’s official.
The foundation won’t support CSI chapters only, the Associated Builders and Contractors have also worked with CSI on the camps with support from local companies. Even the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team has expressed interest, she said.
As interest in the camp has grown, so has women’s interest in building trade careers. According to the newest federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2020, women make up almost 11% of construction workers. When the Greater Lehigh Valley CSI first started the camp in 2017, only 7% were women.
Even in its infancy, the camp has helped many young women pursue careers in the building trades. The camp has had 97 campers in its five years, with 22 of them repeat campers.
There have already been a couple of campers who have begun well-paying jobs in the construction industry, Hart said.
“It is gratifying to see the overwhelming support and interest this camp generates and we are beyond excited to have an opportunity to share this camp at the national level,” Lattin said.