Michigan high school girls learn trade skills

Christie Bleck
Mining Journal

Marquette — Construction is not always about strength or gender.

To help get that point across, high school girls from across the Upper Peninsula took part in a recent Women in Construction event hosted by Northern Michigan University’s construction management program at the Jacobetti Complex in Marquette.

Heidi Blanck, an associate professor in the construction management program, said this year marks the third time the event has taken place, with 120 students taking part in five activity stations under the guidance of 30 volunteers.

The activities have practical applications, such as building a shelf from pallets.

“We’re reclaiming pallet lumber, which is super exciting for them,” Blanck told The Mining Journal. “They really get into using our energy and using our resources wisely, so that’s a very popular activity right now.”

In the welding segment, she said the girls fabricated hooks to be attached to the shelves. They also created a 3D design in the computer-aided design — or CAD — laboratory, and experienced surveying and leadership activities.

Blanck noted many of the volunteers were people involved in construction-related industries who took time out of their day to provide their expertise and talk about the many career paths, regardless of whether they’re in the trades, project management, administration, coordination design or a superintendent.

“All of those elements are available as very viable and lucrative career paths, and we want these girls to understand that it’s very much available to them,” Blanck said.

The Women in Construction event is close to her heart, she said, because so few women are in the industry.

“It has been proven that women do a very good job, and we’re really good communicators,” Blanck said. “We’re really good at problem solving, critical thinking, working as a team.”

It’s also important for women to understand they have as good an opportunity as men in the field, she said, and events such as Women in Construction can help stress that fact since it is an all-female function.

“It’s less intimidating for these young ladies to just give it a try and see if it’s something that they want to do, and then maybe next semester or next year in school, they decide to try the wood shop class or the welding or maybe a CAD class or design,” Blanck said. “So, it gives them an opportunity for one day without making a huge commitment to explore and experience and see if they want to take it further.”

Natalie Prophet, a student at Westwood High School, takes a small engine repair class at school and plans to take wood shop next year.

She already has an interest in woodworking too.

“I just love to build stuff with wood,” Prophet said.