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FOCUS - Changing the industry

image Krystal Atcheson, Brandi McDowell and Lucy Cook

DALLAS/FT WORTH - Atcheson grew up in the construction industry and went to her father’s jobsites. She has worked on numerous projects through the years as well as advanced in her career to be an assistant superintendent at Skanska.





    With a background in psychology and theater, McDowell uses these skills to accomplish her day-to-day tasks on the jobsite.

    Cook grew up around the Wylie community and is now back as an adult constructing a building that will leave a lasting and positive impact on her childhood home.

Why did you choose a career in construction?
    Krystal: My dad encouraged me to work in construction. He knew there was a great opportunity there for me to not only find a job, but make a career out of construction because of the abundance of construction projects, my early exposure to jobsites and interest in the industry.
    Brandi: For me, joining and working in the construction industry was an unexpected surprise. I was motivated to find full-time employment, instead of continuing to freelance write and direct, so I could adopt my son. I submitted my resume to Skanska and haven’t turned back.
    Lucy: I went into college planning for a career in engineering until I realized what engineers do, and I decided that was not the path for me. I was offered an opportunity to go into construction management, which has nearly equal pay for women and endless opportunities for advancement, so I decided to pursue a career in the construction industry instead.

What specific challenges have you faced?
    Krystal: My challenges are similar to my young, male counterparts – trying to prove myself and be taken seriously while making a name for myself.
    Brandi: My biggest challenge has been overcoming the fact that I have a different educational background than most of my coworkers. My degrees are in psychology and theater, so I’ve had to learn on the job versus what my colleagues have learned in the classroom and through internships. 
    Lucy: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is communicating with upper level management and stepping into leadership positions.

How did you overcome those challenges?
    Krystal: Through perseverance and the hope that I am being a maverick in this industry. My work is helping to pave the way so future generations of women can enter this industry. 
    Brandi: Good, old-fashioned hard work and an eagerness to learn and succeed.
    Lucy: By being my own advocate and developing relationships with coworkers who advocate for me as well.

In your opinion, which is more important for a construction career - education or experience?
    Krystal: Experience, 1,000 percent. While education gets your foot in the door, experience is what will help you succeed long term. Arming yourself with technical knowledge is the best thing, in my opinion, to further anyone’s construction career.
    Brandi: While education will help, nothing will ever top daily experience on the jobsite, learning from seasoned professionals in the field and just gaining all-around exposure to the construction industry. I have become a field administrator, and I aspire to become a project engineer through hard work and experience.
    Lucy: Experience. While education makes it easier for you to get your foot in the door and makes you hirable, construction is learning on the job. A bachelor’s degree in construction science is important, but the on-the-job training and knowledge is what sets you apart from everyone else.

What advice can you offer women who want to pursue a construction career?

    Krystal: Go do it! I would research and find either a technical college or university and learn a skill or trade. Whether that’s joining a union or taking construction management classes, the opportunities to make a better life for you are out there. You just have to go look for them and then pursue them.
    Brandi: Do it and do it your way. There are so many opportunities beyond the construction jobsite. 
    Lucy: Pursue your career relentlessly. There are more than enough jobs in this industry and a high demand for women to fill these roles.

From a woman’s perspective, has the construction industry changed over the years?
    Krystal: The construction industry is changing because of the presence of women. It’s no longer just a “boys” club.” Leaders are slowly realizing that they have to change the way the industry operates if they want to continue to see women join and work in construction.
    Brandi: Construction is actually seeking women to join the different ranks, especially here at Skanska. From field work to leadership roles, more and more females are contributing to the construction industry.
    Lucy: There are more women coming into the construction industry. It’s gone from maybe one other woman in the entire office to having three women within Skanska working on just our project site. I definitely foresee more working in this industry in the coming years.

What are your goals for the future in the construction industry?

    Krystal: Overall, I would love to see the construction industry look more like 50/50.
    Brandi: I aspire to grow and reach the project manager level.
    Lucy: I would like to see an increase of women in leadership roles across the industry and to continue promoting equal opportunity and growth. Skanska is very excited to be hosting a “Day of Discovery” at the Collin College Wylie Campus in partnership with Wylie Independent School District. This event will bring high school girls in vocational programs to the site for a tour, lunch and Q&A panel with female leaders in different positions to help expose the students to the various options in the construction industry. For myself, I eventually want to be either a project manager or pursue opportunities to work on the business development side, which is essentially winning new work and working with potential new or repeat clients.

   Skanska USA Building Inc. is a full-service general contractor. -cmw

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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net