When the Let’s Build Construction Camp for Girls kicked off its fifth season in Lehigh Valley, Pa., in June, they had to turn down applications from young women in states bordering Pennsylvania, such as New York and New Jersey, as well as applicants from Wisconsin, Virginia, and as far away as Hawaii.
It’s a sign of the growing reputation of the camp as a fun, inclusive, interactive place for girls to experience what it’s like to work in construction, but also of the lack of opportunities they have to begin a career in the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Owner (AECO) industry.
“We have more applicants than we can host,” said Jon Lattin, who co-founded the camp with Kristen Fallon, both AECO professionals in Lehigh Valley. “Not just from girls who think this is a fun way to fill the time over the summer, but from girls who are really interested in this as a career.”
Lattin and Fallon founded the camp after reading how women represented less than 10 percent of the AECO workforce, and also that jobs in the construction trade are not readily highlighted as a career opportunity.
“Most of the time AECO jobs are not spotlighted, especially for girls,” said Fallon. “We work to put that spotlight on those opportunities. We support them to come to camp, teach to a specific skillset, and show that there is a place for girls in all aspects of this industry.”
Beginning with support from the Greater Lehigh Valley CSI Chapter, and local career guidance counselors and tech schools, the Let’s Build Camp quickly built a groundswell of support from attendees, sponsors, and volunteers.
“Over the years, we’ve usually had 20 to 30 volunteers, mostly from young women who are planners or contractors. This year we had 41,” said Janet Grazul, the camp treasurer. “We had to be wary of social distancing.”
Grazul said a typical day at the camp begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. Day One begins with introductions to the volunteers and each other, an emphasis on job safety, an overview of design, and an explanation of what they will be building.
“Then we get right to framing,” Grazul said. “We don’t mess around. The first day you get your wall framed, and we have them nail and screw the wood together.”
Lunch typically involves a presentation from a guest speaker. Subsequent days at camp include an overview of engineering, electrical work, and what it might be like to find a career as a mechanical or plumbing contractor.
According to Lattin, one of the less tangible albeit most invaluable traits attendees gain, is the networking factor.
“When every camp starts, everyone is kind off in their own space and just listening,” he said. “But by the end, they’re all working and talking together.”
Several camp alumni continue to return every year. Attendee Paige Knowles has built an impressive social media presence around her career as a young woman working in construction. She told CSI, “Let’s Build Construction Camp has helped me realize what skills I have and encouraged me to work hard no matter my gender and goals. I’ve also gained a lot of confidence around people because of this camp, and that has helped my life in ways other than just my career.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic last summer, Let’s Build hosted an advanced camp to benefit Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley. As the initiative’s national influence and exposure continues to grow, Voss said that, “Along with our mission to mentor and inspire the next generation of women in the industry, we will also look for more ways we can give back to our community.”
For more information, visit the Let’s Build Construction Camp webpage.