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What’s Working: Women in construction — where gender pay equity is 94.3%

The male-dominated construction industry is short 650,000 workers — it needs women. Plus: Job paths for those with disabilities, Coors janitors unionize and more!

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Here’s a shocker: Only 11% of construction workers are women

OK, maybe that’s not really much of a shocker. It’s been a male-dominated industry for … ever. Maybe the shocker is that the share of women in construction has grown since 2018, when the rate was at 9.9% though it’s hovered between 9% to 10% since the mid-1990s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But here’s the other issue: There’s just not enough construction workers. According to the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association, the industry is short 650,000 workers this year — and that’s if the industry continues to hire at its normal pace. The shortage is aggravated by two widely publicized statistics (that are based on research data that is 5-15 years old): The average construction worker retires at 61 and currently 1 in 5 are older than 55

Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president of M.A. Mortenson Company, a construction and engineering firm with an office in Denver, at a construction site. (Provided by M.A. Mortenson Company)

“It’s a multi-dimensional challenge,” said Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president of M.A. Mortenson Company, a construction and engineering firm with an office in Denver. “There’s generational challenges as a lot of the workforce is retiring, that’s the front-line craft workforce. There’s a lot less people entering the construction trades than maybe we’ve seen in the past.”

While the numbers of women construction workers have been on the rise mostly since 2012, the trend isn’t the same for men. The pandemic walloped the industry and there were fewer men in construction jobs last year than in 2019.

“I think construction has a branding problem because it’s one that people think of as a lot of men are working in it. It’s also something people think of as being very labor intensive,” Rosenquist said. 

She prefers to think about it as an industry where there is a job for everyone, from someone with no high-school education to the people graduating from college or working at the best technology companies. It’s about having a career with benefits, and something that every place has job openings. 

All of that is why Rosenquist joined the Women in Construction Week event this week, which highlighted the very low numbers, spotlighted top women in the field and showed younger women the benefits of a career in construction. 

Construction firm M.A. Mortenson Company hosted the Women in Construction event in Denver on March 8, 2022. Maja Rosenquist, the company’s senior vice president, spoke at the event aimed spotlighting women leaders and encouraging young women to consider a career in construction. (Provided by M.A. Mortenson Company)

“From a gender perspective,” she said, “it’s always been male dominated and so getting both the industry and companies providing an inclusive work environment for women is something that I think people need to double down on.”

Mortenson, of which 20% of its 205-person Denver workforce are women, also announced a multi-year partnership Thursday with Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver to provide training for women interested in construction as part of the Women Build Warriors program. This will include on-site quarterly classes and team building to master construction skills.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

And for women, she pointed out, the gender wage gap is one of the narrowest. BLS data puts female construction worker earnings in 2019 at 94.3% of a male worker’s weekly median pay. That comes out to $862 a week for women and $914 for men, based on 2019 median weekly pay data. For all occupations, women made 81.5% what men made.

“The industry is evolving,” she said. “The ability to take more construction and prefabricate it in work environments (in a controlled space) I think is going to continue to make the industry more attractive for women and help overcome that image of being a very physical business.” 

More on construction:

→ Join a construction-training class through Habitat for Humanity >> MORE

→ Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build newsletter >> SIGN UP

→ Training programs and job opportunities:

  • Colorado Homebuilding Academy — Offers training and job placement into the condustrion industry. >> DETAILS
  • Construction Industry of Colorado Training Council — Works with Colorado trade organizations to provide apprenticeship programs. >> MORE
  • Careers in Construction Colorado — Provides vocational training programs for high school students in Colorado. >> MORE

>> Highest paying cities for cement masons? Not Denver or anywhere in Colorado, says a report from real estate company Porch. In Colorado, masons earned $47,454 per year, or about $1,400 more than the U.S. average. If you can swing the cost of living in Hawaii, that state tops the list with annual wage of $80,446. >> MASON PAY

Union news: 7% increase for Coors janitors

More than 40 janitors who clean up the Coors Brewery in Golden are getting a 7% wage increase, which amounts to about $1-$2 an hour, depending on seniority and shift. 

Why now? They voted last week to unionize and joined the Service Employees International Union Local 105. The janitors work for Coors contractor Integrated Cleaning Services.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The increase gets the Denver-area workers to $15.65 to $17.65 an hour, SEIU spokesman David A. Fernandez said about the new contract. And over the next two years, there will be 4.4% pay increases.

While the low end is barely above Denver’s minimum wage, Fernandez points out that the workers now have a guaranteed pay scale, health care, vacation and sick days and other protections “that they previously did not have without a union.”

Union membership declined in the pandemic, as companies in hospitality industries cut workers early on. But as workers returned, the abundance of job openings had employers competing for staff and empowered workers to ask for more.  

Activity in Colorado continues to grow. As mentioned last week, three Starbucks stores in the Denver area are trying to unionize and are now joined by one in Colorado Springs. Earlier this year, union workers at King Soopers went on strike and some workers ended up getting a pay raise of more than $5 an hour. And last fall, 350 janitors who are members of SEIU Local 105 agreed on a new contract with the contractor that handles cleaning the Denver International Airport, raising wages $4 an hour over the next three years.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Baseball’s $700,000 contract — On Thursday, Major League Baseball and its players’ union finally agreed on a new contract that sets the new minimum salary at $700,000 this year, with annual pay raises of $20,000, reports The Wall Street Journal. Opening day for the Rockies is now set for April 8. >> MLB contract

→ 27 years, $22.65/hour — That’s how much one security guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is paid and she’s making buttons for her coworkers as an art project, though it may seem like “a gesture of activism” as the union is in contract negotiations, reports The New York Times. Pay rates for museum guards in the “Mountain Plains,” which includes Colorado, are worse, according to the 2021 Salary Survey by the Association of Art Museum Directors. >> Salary survey 

Pilot program starts for workers with disabilities

A new program is underway inside the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to address an issue felt by workers with disabilities: Their employment rates were one-third the rate of those without a disability.

CDLE’s Disability Hiring Preference Pilot, spurred by last year’s Senate Bill 95, gives job candidates with a disability five bonus points, similar to the program for veterans. The boost doesn’t guarantee a job though, CDLE officials said.

“Similar to the existing preference program for veterans, applicants who qualify for the Disability Hiring Preference Program will be awarded five additional points during the process CDLE uses to score and rank applicants for a position. This may increase the opportunity for people with disabilities to reach the threshold of the six highest-ranked candidates, who are then moved to the interview stage,” CDLE said in a statement.

The pilot program will only be within CDLE through 2027 and if deemed successful, other state government agencies will adopt it.

→ Another perspective: Amanda Morris, a New York Times disability reporting fellow, notes that hiring people with disabilities isn’t a big news story. Rather, the hard-of-hearing reporter wrote, “the real story was how some of those workers had master’s degrees, yet they had trouble finding jobs elsewhere because of their disability.” >> NY Times

Other working bits

→ $6.8 billion invested in Colorado startups. That’s a lot of money. As mentioned last week, it also means a lot of companies are hiring. But if you’re wondering how local startups attracted that much, here’s the story to get you caught up: How Colorado startups attracted $6.8 billion in venture investments last year

 → Fight pay retaliation — Speaking out when a worker isn’t receiving their fair pay has been known to incur the wrath of the higher ups. It’s so common among immigrant workers, workers of color, women and the lowest earners that the U.S. Department of Labor this week launched a resource to help workers combat retaliation. >> RETALIATION RESOURCE

→ Women’s Business Summit — The SBA is hosting its 2022 Women’s Business Summit online on March 28-30. Topics include investment, exporting, e-commerce and contracting opportunities. >> REGISTER


I’m always looking to feature interesting business stories from around Colorado. And next week, new job data is coming out. If you’re a business owner who has figured out how to make sense of this new economy, please share your story with the rest of us by emailing tamara@coloradosun.com with your experience and other useful information. 


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. Read the archive, send a message and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter in your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww

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