Muskegon, MI (WOOD TV)- Construction is a field typically dominated by men, but there has been an effort for the last several decades to change that, and Erin Caszatt is helping to lead that effort in West Michigan. She is the president of the Grand Rapids chapter for the National Association of Women in Construction, where a luncheon Wednesday was organized to promote the idea of women in construction.
“I was the son my dad always wanted, so he took me hunting and fishing… We were always building and doing construction projects and stuff around the house”, she explained of growing up without any stereotypical ideas of what girls should or shouldn’t do. That led her to classes in high school typically filled with boys, and occasionally, teachers who weren’t sure how to respond when she outperformed her classmates. She said, “[One teacher] said to me, ‘you’re never going to get a boyfriend if you keep outshining all these guys’. I just laughed it off and rolled my eyes because I didn’t really understand it at that time …but looking back, [I thought] that’s not really very encouraging to say to somebody”. Caszatt used it as motivation to be better, as she continued in a field dominated by men.
She is now a structural steel detailer for Soils and Structures in Muskegon, where she takes designs from engineers and architects, and combines them to determine exactly how much steel a project will require, and how to cut it. In simple terms, she said”Essentially, we’re drawing IKEA instructions for these buildings for the ironworkers to follow”, although it’s more complicated than that. One benefit she has seen in her field is that she doesn’t have tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, because she started working right after high school. Educating women that you can make a positive income out of high school instead of going into debt is one of her goals at NAWIC.
Caszatt says she and other women all have stories of challenges they’ve faced in this industry. “Having disparaging remarks made about you, or people not taking you seriously, having a man repeat what you said and that man is taken seriously. How when we walk onto a construction site, all eyes are turned on you, and it’s like, ‘I’m just here to work’, you know?”, she explained. She believes, as a culture, we’ve moved a lot further ahead in the last 20 years, but there is a lot more room to grow beyond stereotypes. “I don’t think there’s a lot of women encouraged to go in this direction… You have to be introduced to it at some point in time, whether it’s seeing somebody on TV doing that job, or a parent introducing you to that job, kids don’t just make up jobs, they want to be things that they see and hear about”, said Caszatt.
She points out that the construction field is fairly stable, and as the economy changes, they are always building, whether it be roads, homes, or offices. The industry employs more than laborers as well, with a number of jobs, like hers, in drafting or other design work.
The local chapter of NAWIC holds regular meetings on the second Wednesday of every month. This month’s topic is Negotiation, tips and tricks on March 13, 2019.
The chapter has a fundraiser golf outing planned for July 19 at Scott Lake Golf Course.
There are also scholarships available for students interested in the field; applications will be accepted until April 30, 2019.