Girls showcase construction skills

Published 2:36 pm Friday, June 17, 2011

Girls show off their carpentry work June 17 during the final day of the "Girls Can Construction Camp" at Shelby County School of Technology. About 15 girls, ages 14-17, attended the week-long camp. (Reporter photo/Brad Gaskins)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Pink toolboxes and hardhats were used this week at the third annual Girls Can Construction Camp at Shelby County School of Technology.

About 15 girls, ages 14-17 from schools throughout the county, attended the five-day camp, which culminated Friday afternoon with a catered lunch and presentation of projects for friends, family and construction industry professionals.

And the pink equipment didn’t go unnoticed by Kim Flowers, the vice president of technical services for Southern Company Generation.

“I think that’s pretty awesome,” Flowers said. “Years ago you never would have thought it.”

Throughout the week, campers learned about construction career opportunities and received hands-on training in carpentry, wielding, computer design and electrical work.

“There’s not a career out here people today will say a girl can’t do,” said Flowers, who got her start in the industry at age 18, when she took a job drawing plans for electrical lineman at a power company.

Tim Eliff, the technology school’s principal, said construction career options for women are limitless.

“You have the opportunity to move up the ladder more rapidly than your male counterparts,” Eliff said.

Though home construction has slowed recently, industrial construction remains strong, according to Teresa Magnus, CEO of Vulcan Industrial Contractors, a certified, woman-owned business founded in 1949.

“There’s plenty of jobs,” said Magnus, who co-founded the camp three years ago. “Even right now with the unemployment levels where they are, we’re struggling to find certified wielders, certified electricians and certified scaffolding builders who are capable of working in an industrial environment.”

Magnus stumbled into the construction industry at age 19. A college student at Miami University in Ohio, she worked as a lifeguard for $3.85 an hour. That wasn’t making much of a dent in $6,000 a year tuition costs.

Magnus said she began framing houses with her brother for $12 an hour, and has been in the construction business ever since.

“I wish I’d have been exposed to a program like this when I was in high school,” she said. “This camp was designed to give them an introduction to break the ice on construction.”

At the end of camp, girls and their parents received a “Go Build” bag containing additional information, including contact information for potential construction industry employers.

There’s a union office for every trade, and free training is available, Magnus said. Through an apprentice program, women can earn their journeywoman cards, which are accepted in all states.