Each year during Women in Construction Week, local chapters of the NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) hold events honoring the role of women in the industry. Chapter #194 in Grand Rapids serves the West Michigan region and hosted the Women in Construction Luncheon on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
Kristina Bierl was one of approximately 75 women who attended. She has been a structural steel detailer for over 15 years, which means she converts the designs of architects and engineers into the detailed plans and drawings used to build steel structures. “There are no degrees for the work we do and very few college courses to prepare you for the job. The skills are learned through on-the-job training,” Bierl said. According to payscale.com, the average entry-level salary for a structural steel designer is $42,781 per year.
Kristina works in a department of four steel designers, two of whom are women. This is not the norm. Like the rest of the construction industry, about 1 in 10 are female. Erin Caszatt is the other women in her department and has been a structural steel detailer for 19 years. Like Kristina, she did not need a degree to earn her position.
Erin became interested in construction early on; when helping her dad with home renovations as a teen she realized she had a natural ability to visualize projects in 3D. She won NAWIC’s annual Design Drafting Competition as a high school senior. This experience exposed her to many local construction companies, and those contacts led to her first job in steel detailing.
Erin is now the president of the local NAWIC Chapter and helped plan the Women in Construction luncheon. The event featured speaker and author, Sarah Brabbs of Optimizing Relationships, whose presentation, “Surviving Conflict, Change & Challenging People” provided insights on effective communication, especially in challenging work situations.
The chapter invited Sarah to speak because she helps people understand preconceived notions and how they can affect communication. “There is a preconceived notion about what jobs women should do. Hopefully, attendees learned skills to diffuse statements they might hear on the job and open lines of communication,” said Caszatt.