Michelle’s Takeaways: NAWIC National Conference

YellowBird President & COO Michelle Tinsley had the opportunity to attend the NAWIC National Conference in Oregon this year. Read on for some of her biggest takeaways from this year’s conference.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2023 NAWIC conference hosted by the Portland, OR chapter. Here are some of the top takeaways I noted from speakers and panels at the conference:

1) First up- on site tours! I always love getting out into the field and seeing construction in action. This year I toured a 16 story new high rise building underway by Turner Construction- named “Press Blocks”. While still 2 stories down in the ground it was interesting to hear how they are engineering the foundations to last while also reusing a former building foundational wall from the Oregonian building that was demolished.

2) The US passed last year the infrastructure investment bill which targets $1.2T in investment in the US infrastructure- Roads, bridges, transportation systems, ports. Note the #1 targeted spend area is roads as our national infrastructure is aging and in need up an upgrade. This is going to dive over 500,000 new construction jobs nationally and likely will last 10 years before the projects wrap up. California is targeted to be $7.53B in spend with $4.9B in road improvements and $331 million in safety improvements.

3) Construction is more than just building the object. What is built affects traffic patterns, commutes, and the work life balance of thousands of people. The speaker, Dr. Rhianna Rogers of the Rand Corporation, encouraged us to think about the holistic project and how it has a positive impact on the community. She gave an example of how the SOFI stadium build in LA missed the mark. A gorgeous stadium but there is only one road in/out with 2 lanes each direction so large events result in gridlock for hours (multiple times a week).

4) NAWIC is a sisterhood- that is not marketing, but how these women operate in their DNA. One NAWIC member was on the flight to the conference when her house in Lahaina, Hawaii was burned to the ground. She returned home but the ladies at the conference swung into action. The Hawaii chapter donated all proceeds of their booth to her to help rebuild. In addition a Venmo QR code was created and shared repeatedly to collect donations from the attendees. The generosity and sheer impact this group is having on that member is truly unique.

5) Technology adoption is on the rise in Construction. Investment in Construction Tech startups went from $8B during the period of 2008-13 to $25B in the period of 2014-2019. New software and solutions are being deployed that solve real world challenges around worker safety, worker productivity and on the job progress tracking. This tech adoption is creating new roles and responsibilities for workers in the industry while also helping companies close the worker shortage gaps.

6) Worker suicide in the industry is a significant problem. In the US in 2020, 976 construction workers were killed on the job- that same year 601 US military personnel were killed while working. Even more sobering that same year 5,500 construction workers died due to suicide while 406 military personnel died due to suicide. Fundamental stresses on mental health need to be addressed systemically to make an impact on these numbers.

7) Your High School enemy may lead you to your best career move! We had a keynote delivered by Jaime McMillan, co-founder of Kick Ass Careers. Her motivational story about her journey to be a tradeswoman in Canada as a Journeyman Ironworker and Boilermaker started with her running into a high school enemy that seemed to be doing well financially. When she asked her what she did for a living she said, “I’m in construction – and you loved shop in high school you should check it out too!” It opened up a new career path for her as apprentices in trades are paid up to $100K+ a year to learn the trade and progress to Journeyman. Today only 14% of construction workers are female, it would be great to see this number rise as more women discover this lucrative career path.

I’ll wrap this up on a personal note. It was especially nice for me to visit Portland, Oregon as I grew up there. To stay downtown as a business traveler was a new experience and the hope and rebuilding I saw in the city was exciting. I was able to stay the weekend and see friends and family and reconnect with my roots- the Portland NAWIC chapter put a rose on the event by doing such a great job hosting us all. I look forward to next year’s conference in Houston!