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G.I.R.L. Construction Experience Teaches Girls Real-Life Construction Concepts, Aims to Increase Women’s Representation in the Industry

by: Jessica Hoover
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Photo courtesy of the Branch Group
Through a partnership between the Branch Group and the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline, girls between the ages of 5 and 18 recently had the opportunity to learn and experience real-life construction concepts at the first inaugural G.I.R.L (Girls in Real Life) Construction Experience. The free event was hosted at the Branch Group’s headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia. With women currently only making up 14.1 percent of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, events like G.I.R.L Construction Experience are taking one of many steps needed to increase the number of women in the workforce.

“The Branch Group, CEO Donald Graul, and the Executive Leadership Team are committed to increasing the number of women in construction and the number of women at Branch Group,” said Aisha Johnson, EEO Economic Inclusion and Diversity Specialist. “The Branch Group wants to encourage girls and women to explore careers in STEM and construction. … A career in construction has many options, and women and girls are encouraged to explore careers they may not be aware of.”

Most of the event sponsors for the G.I.R.L Construction Experience created booths/activities for the girls, with each activity intended for a specific age range. Activities included: Branch Builds’ iPad scavenger hunt, TCP board/project planning, quick frame and concrete, modular building blocks, marshmallow/noodle tower construction, string art, paper bridge construction, and drone demos; Associated Asphalt’s liquid asphalt terminaling and testing; Balzer & Associates’ two surveying and equipment demos and bedroom designing; Roanoke City Schools’ “Electives and Education”; Hopkins | Lacy’s BIM PVC pipe activity, Trimble demo, and paper airplanes; HCCA’s “Opportunities in Construction”; Rockydale Quarry’s science experiment and simulator; Virginia Western’s promo booth and excavator simulator; Kids Square’s circuit diagrams and electronics, tornado test, and 3D home building; ABC Virginia’s and BYF’s information booth; Carter CAT’s excavator tennis; Salem City Schools’ mechanical simulator; Robins & Morton’s virtual reality mobile unit; Greater Roanoke Workforce Development Board’s virtual reality construction and trades modules; Build Smart Institute’s design work and hammering saw horse activities; United Rental’s boom lift and tractor trailer; and Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline’s Mobile STEM Center.

“If we want to close the gender gap in construction and STEM fields, we must ensure that all girls have access to high-quality construction and STEM learning experiences,” said Nikki Williams, CEO for Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council. “Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline is proud to partner with Branch Group, and we are thrilled to support the efforts for girls to expand their learning in the construction field.”

Exposing girls to construction and other STEM careers as early as possible is essential to making a difference in the number of girls that will be interested in those industries. Currently, less than 12 percent of girls will consider a career in STEM by the time they enter high school.

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“At Girl Scouts, STEM is one of the four program pillars upon which all programming is based,” Williams said. “Because we know that, when given the opportunity, girls thrive in these areas, which they’re often not encouraged to explore outside Girl Scouts. Seventy-seven percent of Girl Scouts say that their Girl Scout experience has prompted them to consider a career in technology, which is considerably higher than the national average for non-Girl Scouts.”

The Branch Group Addresses the Workforce Shortage Through Various Initiatives
With 53 percent of the workforce set to retire by 2036, and the construction industry already facing a workforce shortage of 650,000 this year, companies are running the risk of not having enough skilled workers to complete the infrastructure needed to grow in the United States.

The Branch Group is working on various initiatives to address and bring awareness to the workforce shortage. The initiatives primarily focus on connecting with children and allowing them to explore opportunities in the industry. “If we can capture the interest of students at a young age, they are more likely to continue pursuing interests in construction and STEM,” Johnson said.

Through a partnership with Carter Machinery, the Branch Group built a 1,500-square-foot Construction Zone in Kids Square, an interactive play museum for children between the ages of 0 and 12 in downtown Roanoke. The new space features construction-related exhibits — including a workable crane and operational but stationary dump truck — as well as activities where children can create and connect electrical circuits, use a drill to build a house, and operate a real mini excavator.

The Branch Group also hosts internship and apprenticeship programs and partners with school systems across Virginia to talk and meet with students of CTE programs. Additionally, the company judges building contests and provides supplies and tools to students.

“Getting kids excited and interested in construction early is key. When we ask our employees what made them pursue a career in construction, they always go back to a childhood memory that sparked their interest,” said Kenna Smith, Talent Acquisition Manager at the Branch Group. “The opportunities here are endless, and it’s one of the only careers where there is so much mobility and variety.”

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