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BRINGING THEIR OWN SKILLS TO THE WORKBENCH

Women bring teamwork, attention to detail and a can-do attitude to construction

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO V-Talese Commercial Carpentry completed an interior renovation for Avenue Two Travel, an agency in Radnor.

One thing often overlooked in the construction industry is the contribution of women.

The industry has continued to evolve over the years, and while women have made strides in architecture and engineering, what may not be as noticeable are the many women working in the construction trades.

They often serve as strong, positive role models and bring diversity to a traditionally male-dominated field. Even more important is that they bring their own vast knowledge, skills and sense of curiosity to their work, much like anyone who enjoys their career and displays passion in what they do.

Generally speaking, women often bring a strong attention to detail, a collaborative approach and an encouraging, inclusive attitude toward their project work and when teaming with others in the industry.

“I’ve always had an innate curiosity of how things go together,” said Robin Hoover, principal and director of project management for Ondra-Huyett Associates Inc. of Upper Macungie Township. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and nobody in my family was in construction.”

CURIOSITY PAYS OFF

Hoover, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Penn State, entered the construction field in the early 1980s, working at the Limerick nuclear power plant in Montgomery County when it was under construction.

“I wanted to get out in the field, and I loved it and I always approached it with a curiosity,” Hoover said. “Anybody that knows me knows I will ask a million questions.

“I was 21 when I entered the industry. As soon as they found out you have a curiosity … they were receptive because of my attitude.”

NO EXCUSES

Hoover’s approach to construction worked well with older workers who took her under her wing.

The craftsmen wanted to share what they learned so she got early experiences in not only seeing how buildings come together, but how teams work together.

“I never felt like I got singled out because of being a woman,” Hoover said. “I never made it a big deal and I never made it an issue.

“I’ve always had an irritation at people who want to throw that up as a stumbling block. If you don’t look in that light, then you don’t give yourself that excuse.”

OPEN TO OPPORTUNITIES

At the beginning of Hoover’s career, she thought, “you’re young, and if you treat everybody fairly, there’s not going to be any issues.”

She remained open to opportunities as they presented themselves, which helped her progress in her career.

“Every job is a new group of people. There’s always going to be that learning curve where people see what you are made of,” Hoover said.

She recalled one time someone said to her, “I’ve never worked with a female project manager before.

Her response: “Neither have I.”

TANGIBLE RESULTS

Allana Karo’s interest in construction began at 14 while at Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School.

She is now working on construction projects in a supervisory role as an assistant project manager and project coordinator at Klover Kontracting Inc. in Richland Township.

“When I walked into the carpentry class, it seemed liked a fun class, and I eventually went to college and majored in construction management,” Karo said.

She earned her associate degree from Northampton Community College and credits her experience at Bethlehem Vo-Tech for sparking her interest.

“It gave me good exposure to the field I wanted to be in,” she said. “I enjoy the progress that construction makes. Everything is more tangible. To see a building go up, it’s amazing.”

TREATED FAIRLY

It’s particularly notable because of all the coordination of people involved in making the project happen, which is the crux of Karo’s job. She is in charge of coordinating teams of people and managing the project to completion, something she finds very rewarding.

A memorable project involved constructing a lab and office building for Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater. Brought in at the start, she helped to manage and coordinate construction from the ground up.

She also worked on a project in Trenton, N.J., which required a total renovation of an old cable factory into loft apartments.

In the field, Karo said, people have treated her fairly, for the most part. Once they find she knows as much as they do, they treat her with respect, she added.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence to go out there and be one of the guys,” said Karo, who has been with Klover for nearly three years. “I’m glad I picked this industry.”

‘BEAR OF AN INDUSTRY’

Tammi Schaible has been at V-Talese Inc. Commercial Carpentry, a small, family owned company in Trumbauersville, since 2002. She joined her brother’s company after earning a Master of Business Administration at Dowling College.

“Construction is a bear of an industry,” she said. “It’s exciting at every turn, but can also be extremely frustrating. Definitely, I find that the constant learning curve and the constant challenges for me are exciting.”

Schaible’s company is at the project site through all phases of construction, and she serves as chief financial officer and safety officer, a dual role that she says is rare to the industry.

“When they are on a job site and they need more scaffolding, the solution is one person,” she said. “There’s no long process. They have direct access to me, and I give direct approval.”

RECEPTIVE, FRIENDLY

Overall, Schaible has found construction to be a very welcoming industry. She previously worked in child care with mostly other women and found the construction industry more receptive and friendly.

“I found they were eager to recognize women for their talents,” Schaible said. “It’s almost like there’s an admiration. I have always felt well-respected.”

From a safety perspective, she said that when she walks onto a job site, other workers are receptive to her and appear more aware of safety issues.

“I’ve noticed over the years, I get results,” Schaible said. “I haven’t found any negative challenges.”

NO THREAT OF OUTSOURCING

Schaible said the construction industry encourages competition with fun, exciting people who like when you win, which can be a different environment compared to other industries.

“Even [among] my competition, I have respect for being a woman in this industry,” Schaible said. “I have found it to be a huge asset because everyone wants you to succeed.”

It’s a career in which she plans to remain. She reminds her employees that construction is an industry that cannot be outsourced.

“We are always going to be able to provide jobs here,” Schaible said.

PROJECT MANAGERS

Carrie Wilson started her career in high-end residential construction and also worked in engineering and solar industries in development and marketing positions for nearly 20 years. She now is marketing communications coordinator at C. Raymond Davis & Sons, a general contractor and construction management firm in Kimberton.

Over the years, she has seen many changes in construction.

“I see more and more women in the industry,” Wilson said. “You are finding more and more project managers who are women. I think they can do well being so detail oriented. I think that helps.”

She likes the challenges the construction industry brings.

“It’s ever-changing,” Wilson said. “It’s not an easy market to be in. There are a lot of different people involved in the building of one structure. Challenges arise with every project.”

‘AMAZING’ PARTNERSHIP

Tracy Becker has been in construction since the 1980s and now owns Tracy Becker Construction, which began in 1997.

She moved the business, of which her husband, Donn, is vice president, into a new space this year in a building they bought on Schoeneck Road in Lower Macungie Township.

Before then, they worked from their home in South Whitehall Township for 18 years, then moved to a spot on Medical Center Circle in Lower Macungie Township.

“I would draw it, tell Donn and he builds it,” Becker said. “We worked out of our basement for 18 years. The partnership is just amazing.”

WORKING TOGETHER FROM THE START

Becker graduated from Lock Haven High School in 1982 and didn’t pursue higher education.

“My family was very poor,” she said. “I didn’t go to college.

“I met my husband in 1986. He was a carpenter.”

They got married and began working on projects together, including some for the housing authority and Williamsport Christ Community Worship Center.

HOME DEPOT CONTRACT

In 1995, an opportunity arose when Home Depot asked if the Beckers could be door installers for the company, which they began doing under her husband’s name.

She and her husband would travel all over, installing doors for customers.

They started in the Lehigh Valley, then acquired installation duties for Home Depot stores in Hudson Valley, N.Y. Then they added more stores in central Pennsylvania, with the last expansion into central New Jersey.

TBC Installs, which is the installation business of her company, has 56 stores in the tri-state area. In 1997, it became incorporated, with Tracy Becker as the owner.

NEXT GENERATION

The Beckers have five children, and the family quickly became a natural part of the business.

Three of the children work for the business, which Becker intends to keep woman-owned by having daughter Emily Straut take over when she steps down.

“Who better to run the company than those who grow up in it?” Becker said. “We look for leaders in hiring.”

About 80 percent of her business is through Home Depot. The door installations often are quick projects with fast turnarounds.

With 130 employees, including subcontractors, Becker’s company covers a wide territory, she said.

TEAM SUPPORT

While she has achieved notable success in her business, Becker is quick to note that she could never be where she is at without her team and the support of her husband.

“There is nothing he doesn’t know about doors,” she said.

“Without my team, without the men in the field, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” Becker said. “The New Jersey market is one tough market.”

HELPING THE COMMUNITY

While Becker said she has not experienced pushback from people in the industry for being a woman, she recalls times when she had to do measurements at homes and some older customers questioned her ability to do it.

Otherwise, she has enjoyed working steadily and finds strength in having her family working alongside her.

Her company also gives back to the community by sponsoring the Civic Theatre in Allentown and donating sneakers and other supplies to students in the Allentown School District. For customers in need, she’ll often install doors for free, particularly those affected by domestic violence or if they are veterans.

“There is no better feeling than to give something away and expect nothing in return,” Becker said.

 

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