BETHLEHEM, PA - Manicured manpower! These campers are getting their hands dirty, building callous and character during their time at Let’s Build Construction Camp for girls in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“Let’s Build Camp is basically to encourage girls in construction to not worry about the guys because it’s always guys in the construction field,” says three-time camper and LCTI student, Paige Knowles, “It encourages us to be strong, do all the things that a guy can do because we can do it too.”
Every summer dozens of middle and high school aged girls spend a week learning valuable skills that for some might turn into careers. Paige says, “I would really like to own my own business with my sister, Mikayla, my boyfriend, and all them -- we all have a huge group of people so we want to own our own business. “We just learn the trade in school and now I’m meeting people outside that I can go to for help and I’ve learned that other people have made their own business and I can go talk to them to get help to make my business.”
Sydney Nagy is a former Let’s Build camper who now works as a full-time carpenter for R.L. Reppert, an Emmaus based contractor. The now 19-year-old instructs a carpentry portion of the camp herself! Teaching young girls the tricks of the trade she’s turned into a career.
“So now you work with girls more and there’s more ladies coming into the work industry and it’s actually pretty good because we’re taking demand and we’re taking initiative and we’re going out there and it’s nice to see that,” explains Nagy, “You get to experience what a boss is and when they have that now, they rely on you and it’s hard on us--because I’ve never had to do that and they want you to lead them and show them what to do and take the next few steps.”
During the five-day long construction boot camp, girls are exposed to electrical, carpentry, concrete, flooring and plumbing, gaining the skills necessary to fix things around the house for themselves and family members or even pursue careers in construction in the near future.
This isn’t Hannah Lettis’s first summer at Let’s Build, the CIT student says, “I’m the only girl in my class for CIT, so they always say, Hannah you can’t lift this, Hannah you can’t do that, but then I push them aside and I’m like no, I will do this and I lift--keep going so it’s amazing.”
With about 40 volunteers who help campers with instruction and hands on lessons, these young women learn there is a spot for them in construction if they want it and skills that are valuable in any and all careers they choose to pursue.
“Teamwork, leadership, basically just like working together and learning that you don’t have to do everything by yourself, we can do it together as girls,” says Mikayla Knowles, “At the end of the week, there’s a lot of business owners that come in and so we learn a lot about networking and finding out what you can do after you graduate and jobs we can get from the skills that we’re learning here. The guys always kind of like (say) we’ll you’re weak or something, you can’t do as much stuff as us but if we work together we’re just as capable of everything that they can do and sometimes even by ourselves, sometimes we can too.”
It might not come as a surprise but data from the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation shows that women make up a small percentage of construction workers. Women were just over 9% (9.3%) of all construction workers in Lehigh and Northampton Counties in 2016. And with over 400 thousand unfilled construction jobs across the U.S. as of April 2019, these girls could fill any one of them.
“Leaders emerge from this program,” says Paige, “You can definitely learn how to lead people. So, it’s not just about doing the actual work, it’s about working together with people and how to push people in the right direction of doing things and the right order and all that.”