Women starting construction careers create building blocks for others

March 4, 2024

By Ethan Duran

Read the Full Article from the Daily Reporter Here


Before she started, Regina Funmaker found it daunting to face the unknown when she first considered a construction career. But after she started full-time work as an apprentice construction laborer, she noticed that she inspired others by taking the leap.

In January, Funmaker switched from her job as an office manager and completed the highway construction skills program at Forward Services Corp. She kicked off her apprenticeship with Boldt and the Laborers’ Local 330 and performed demolition work at the ongoing Fox Commons project in Appleton.

“Since then all the employees, from the foremen, superintendent and office staff, has been welcoming and encouraging,” Funmaker said. “I didn’t realize how much the construction field offers. It’s hard to put yourself in one lane in construction. When you develop all these trades, the opportunities are endless,” she added.

Contractors want to hire, but need to reimagine workplaces to onboard new people

In December 2023, there were 374,000 job openings in construction, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The current workforce is graying out as the median age for construction and extraction was 40.6 years. Only 10.8% of the workforce is made up of women and 86.8% of it is white, BLS data showed.

It’s no secret that construction needs more workers, and both unions and contractors are trying to fill the gaps by reaching out to women and people of color, who weren’t traditionally found in the role decades earlier. With a labor shortage, contractors and unions realize they must reimagine the workplace environment as they welcome new workers.

“There’s certain cultural aspects to the trades in the Midwest that are tough for anybody outside the (white, male) demographic to break into,” said Rob Branyan, the vice president of labor relations at Boldt. “The example I always use is: I know how to talk the language, what boots to wear, how to wear your hardhat, I knew the lingo.”

To help hires that don’t come from that background get up to speed, construction companies will have to build a welcoming environment, Branyan said.

“It’s important for two reasons,” he added. “One is obviously to address the labor shortage, and the other is to make sure we’re representing the community they work in.”

Construction can be intimidating at first, but less scary when recruits ask questions

Funmaker, who is from La Crosse and is a member of the Ho Chunk Nation, moved to Oshkosh a year and a half ago. With a 14-year-old daughter, she said she wrestled with the fear of the unknown moving to a new area and starting a new job in a field she didn’t have a background in, but she said Boldt and the union helped smooth her experience.

“Being new to this career field it was intimidating not knowing all these jobs, the terminology and some of the tools,” Funmaker said. “But again, my coworkers and the team, everybody has been really encouraging and super helpful, making it not so scary. There’s a heavy emphasis on safety and being safe instead of rushing and not asking questions,” she added.

Allison Knautz, a workforce development manager for Boldt, said it was important for people entering the industry to be ready to build relationships and feel comfortable asking questions. Boldt also has Gatekeepers who assist in personal and professional development, she added.

“That creates an environment for someone who isn’t typically represented. Maybe they’re the only female on the job site or an individual that represents a minority group. We want to be intentional with the support we’re providing so they do have that advantage where they can say, ‘I need that additional support, I know who I can contact,’” Knautz said.

Knautz said Boldt wants to develop its relationship with community partners when workers need help with resources such as mental health, housing and childcare.

Funmaker added that her experience was also an important lesson for her daughter, other members of the Ho-Chunk and other tribe members who want to join the trades.

“I feel like I set an example for (my daughter) that we will face obstacles and barriers – some aren’t intentional, it’s just the way things have been – but to not be afraid to face them head-on,” Funmaker said. “Sometimes walking onto a construction site is intimidating at first, but once you get acclimated and show up each day, it gets easier. That’s why I encourage my daughter.”

She said her daughter wants to enroll in college for business, but Funmaker said she will stay with Boldt for the next few years. She said she will earn her commercial driver’s license through Fox Valley Technical College. She also said both men and women on the job site have reached out to her for advice and with encouragement.

“I’ve had a lot of other people reach out and I tell them … ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated.’ It’s a lot of coming out of your shell,” she said.