Linda Young secretly wanted a career on the building side of construction, but there were few women working in the field and even fewer available to mentor aspiring young women.
So she was determined to make it possible for other young professionals to get the opportunities she did not.
“Because of my love of construction and because you don’t get bored in it, I thought it was a good thing to start mentoring youth because if I had been mentored as a young person about the construction industry, I probably would have had a career totally in the construction industry,” she said.
She said she’s drawn to the diverse jobs in the industry – whether it be as a contractor, subcontractor or supplier – and finds the work fascinating.
Young, 68, has been involved on the financial side of the construction industry since 1983, the same year she moved to San Diego.
Now, after receiving her 30-year pin from the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and serving three times as the local chapter’s president, she’s working to encourage young people to enter the field through education.
She joined NAWIC after taking a construction class held by the San Diego chapter; she’s their longest-standing member. Because education drew her to NAWIC, she has always thought education was important and wanted to be a part of that outreach. During her time as the association’s national president (2002-2003), Young formed a partnership with Women in Construction in the United Kingdom, which she considers her greatest accomplishment.
After working in a variety of positions as a certified public accountant for construction clients, Young co-founded a construction consulting company in East County in 2008 with her husband Frank, C-SOS Consulting. She continues to consult with the construction industry and members of NAWIC. She has two kids: one is an electrician and the other is in finance.
Before starting her own company, she worked for a former local residential development firm, San-T Development Corp., as chief financial officer and then moved into subcontracting with Dynalectric, a design build and electrical construction company, as its accounting manager.
Young keeps busy as the chairwoman of the NewSchool of Architecture & Design’s Construction Management Advisory Board; secretary of the Kearny High School Stanley E. Foster School of Engineering, Innovation and Design Advisory Committee; trustee of the NAWIC Education Foundation; co-chair of the San Diego Chapter Camp NAWIC Committee; and president of the NAWIC SD Future Construction Leaders Foundation.
The San Diego Business Journal sat down with Young to talk about the state of the construction industry.
What is the construction industry like for women?
I do think that women have to work a little bit harder to prove their value but I also think that employers’ eyes are opening and they’re focusing on looking for the talents of women, whereas before, I don’t think they believed the talents were there, so they obviously didn’t look for them.
Tell me more about Camp NAWIC, the high school construction week-long camp for girls you started.
The trades in construction offer phenomenal salaries and benefits for people and it’s a good opportunity for young women if they like using their hands to get involved in that type of a career.
So with Camp NAWIC, we give them five days and a taste of five different trades so that they can get the feel for what it might be like working in the construction industry, out in the field, doing those kinds of crafts.
What would you say are one or two common misconceptions about women in the industry?
At one point in time, there wasn’t room for women on the construction site. That’s changed. It’s becoming much better. They’re finding that women work well in a team on a construction site. There’s still a long way to go but the bigger general contractors, I think, are making that become a reality by hiring women into key positions in their companies.
When NAWIC started 50-60 years ago, it was a clerical organization. We had receptionists, bookkeepers, secretaries, that kind of thing. Now the majority of our new members that we have coming in come in with degrees. So the association has had to grow and change its outreach and I think the same thing has happened within the industry. Those kids that are coming out with degrees today go out and after a few years of internal climbing ladders, they’re running millions of dollars of work.
What would you say are strengths and weaknesses in the industry for women?
I think weaknesses are lack of courage and lack of confidence. They’re not the same as I see it. They may have the talents, but they don’t feel like they have the talents and they need encouragement, they need mentorship. I think the strength of the industry is there is mentorship available and that’s not just male and male or female and female, it’s male-female.
What are some strengths and weaknesses of the industry in general?
Our weakness is that we’re (the industry) looked upon as dirty (work), you know, ‘Why would you want to be in construction? It’s just all dirt,’ and I think there’s a lot more integrity in the industry than we’re given credit for. The construction industry is not one of the first industries a parent will encourage their child to get involved in. And we’re trying to change that as an industry. I know NCCER (the National Center for Construction Education and Research) right now is doing a study to see what encourages a parent to try to sway their child to a certain industry. So there is work being done within the industry to clean up our image.
I think the strength of the industry is, from my perspective, partnership. Partnership is business to business, person to person. It takes a team. The construction industry is a very team-oriented industry.
Where is the industry going? What is the outlook for 2016?
The industry’s got to grow. Construction’s never going to be something that isn’t needed. It’s not going to phase itself out. I think with the easier acceptance of women in construction, it’s definitely going to be a win-win situation because we’re going to have the best talent for the job.
Do you think if these positions continue to be filled by qualified workers, the gap can shrink?
I think that’s a long time coming. There’s too many that are needed…I don’t think I go to a meeting where they don’t say, ‘We’ve got to get some people into this industry.’ So I’m sure if it’s like that out there (on the national scale), it’s like that in San Diego, also. You look at programs, your degreed programs, your apprenticeship programs, they’re all four- to six-year programs. So it’s not like we can just pluck somebody off the street and make them what we want them to be.
The baby boomers are retiring. We are the bulk of the industry right now, and I think there’s going to be twice as many of us going out as we have coming in and that’s a sad thing…I don’t know how we’re going to win that fight, but we have to for the good of the future of the kids.