The HOYA Foundation’s Transportation & Construction Girl program was created to expose girls to the opportunities available in the industry. “We started because only 10% of the construction workforce was women. Knowing how many people have retired from this industry, how badly we need workforce, we were like, ‘This would fix this,’” Keller Hayes, the program director, said of the effort to attract more women to the industry.
As the program was being developed, Hayes realized that there wasn’t just a problem with awareness.
“Between middle school and high school, regardless of the ethnic background, the economic background, the geographic background, girls’ self-esteem goes down by 66%,” she said. “They get into high school, and they really want to be right—not from an egotistical standpoint, but they don’t want to give the wrong answer.”
The program and its flagship event, a week-long career fair, has a powerful effect on participant’s confidence, according to Hayes.
“I just can’t stress how important it is that they have a safe atmosphere for them to experience these” events, she said. “For instance, during the Career Week, we let the girls get up on a piece of equipment and move the bucket. We have somebody right next to them, showing them how to do it, and they still say to me, ‘I might break that.’ Of course, once they get on it, they’re laughing and happy, but they would not get on it in a mixed-gender group. It’s so funny to see a girl terrified to get on a piece of large equipment and then when she’s there going, ‘I could do this.’”
Typically, over the course of several weeks throughout the summer, groups of 12 girls visit five different businesses to learn more about that particular sector. “They get to have women talk to them about their careers in that industry, and they get to really see what it’s like,” Hayes said.
She added that the experience helps participants build interpersonal skills. “For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever been outside of their own school clique. They’re meeting with other girls from different locations, different economic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds, and it gives them an opportunity to actually create that first little networking group.”
In 2019, the program had 600 participants. Of course, in 2020 the event was driven online, and in 2021, the program included a day of indoor and outdoor exhibits at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, as well as online elements. TC Girl now offers monthly webinars where women in the industry speak with participants. “We pop them into different Zoom rooms and let them talk one-on-one with the girls. We’ve worked really hard to let them have that kind of contact,” Hayes said.
The program is available at no cost to participants. The program’s sponsors cover the cost, and offer expertise and other resources for job shadowing or internships.
“There are so many reasons that this is a girls-only program, but we are so grateful to all of the men that are allies,” Hayes said. “I cannot even begin to tell you what it meant when we had the general manager of RTD Dave Genova sit down with girls who were 13 to 20 and tell them, ‘We want you in this industry.’”