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Q&A: Going to bat for women in construction

As a longtime construction project manager, Katie King knows what it’s like to build something from the ground up.

King, a senior project manager with Adolfson & Peterson, has 24 years of experience in the construction industry. A native of California, she has overseen wide a range of projects, from health care facilities to a K-12 school currently under construction in Oakdale.

As a mentor and industry advocate with a powerful success story to tell, King is also building a foundation for more women to work in construction.

King took a hammer to the glass ceiling in 2003 when she graduated with a construction management degree from California State University, Chico. She was one of only two women in a graduating class of about 115 people.

Though women are increasingly gaining a foothold in the industry, there’s still ample room for improvement. According to government statistics, women make up only 10% to 12% of the entire construction trades workforce.

In the following interview, King talks about how she became interested in construction, her work with Adolfson & Peterson, and challenges and opportunities for women in construction. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell us about your job duties with Adolfson & Peterson and any current projects you’re working on.

A: Realistically, as a senior PM, at this point I’m really client-focused. So I get to create those relationships, I get to be the bridge between the client and the project team, so that the client has somebody that can support them with questions being answered, or updates, but allowing the project team to focus on managing the job efficiently and effectively.

Right now I’m on a project. My project is Skyview Middle School in Oakdale. And we’re doing a full renovation, interior and exterior with some additions. It’s a two-year project. We’re coming up on our last summer. The school has been fully functional throughout the school year with both a middle school and an elementary. It’s turning into just the middle school after the summer, but it’s been a good project, good learning experience. And it’s an exciting job.

Q: Have you done a lot of K-12 work?

A: Actually, this is my first public school. So for me, it’s really exciting, because I’m learning a lot. Part of the reason I love construction is because it’s never the same, project to project. But probably over half my career has been in health care, so I’m also working at AP a little bit on business development, specifically in our health care sector.

Q: How did you become interested in construction as a career?

A: When I was a kid, my dad has always been in commercial construction, so I was always on a project site with him. And it just was always a normal thing for me. It was never really something that I thought I would do, but it wasn’t something I didn’t think I would do. I actually really wanted to be one of the vendors at baseball games, the people that walk up and down the stairs and yell, “Ice cold beer!” [laughs]

And then I realized that probably wasn’t going to pan out. But the summer between junior and senior year of high school, I think, in order to try to keep me out of trouble, my dad influenced me and kind of pushed me toward a summer construction job. This was in California, where I was born and raised, and I was on a six-building campus for a company called Sun Microsystems.

I did document control. And this was 1998, before all the email and everything, so I would leave work with bloody hands from paper cuts. But I loved it. I loved being onsite. I got to see concrete and steel and cranes and then at the end of the day, I was able to see this product that we were building and I could easily make a connection. I had a part in that. This is me being part of something bigger than myself.

I think that’s what kept me going. I did some internships and then I decided to go to college and major in construction management. I stuck with that and then started my career after college and haven’t veered from it.

Knowing that I get bored easily, it’s a perfect industry because it’s always changing. There are people that have been in this industry for 40 plus-years and they’re installing something for the first time that they’ve never seen before, especially with technology. And it’s a really fun industry in the fact that things are always new, always changing.

Q: So you grew up in California. What brought you to Minnesota?

A: Oh, it’s a long story. In California I was doing one of my big projects there for five years, so a good chunk of my career. I was doing a hospital in Oakland; it was extremely challenging, but also one of the most amazing projects. It was on a fault line, so the structure had to be so beefed up and just massive.

The best part about that job, outside of the construction, was that there were 50 people in the trailer. We were co-located with the design team, with the owner, with the mechanical and electrical subs, trade partners. It sounds really cheesy, but we came became a family.

Over time, my family and I decided to leave California just based on traffic, and having small children and wanting a little bit more elbow room. As the project manager that I am, I made a giant spreadsheet and started narrowing it down and this is where we landed.

It’s wild. I had no idea it was going be this cold [laughs].

Q: How long have you been with Adolfson & Peterson?

A: I’m fairly new to AP — since October — so this is my first project with them. While I’m helping the project team focus on the project and I’m taking the lead with the owner and client relationships, I’m also learning the AP way, which so far I’m really impressed with.

Because it’s Women in Construction week, I might as well just jump into that. AP really shows that they’re committed to providing that support. Something that I’m passionate about is that leadership and support to women in construction and I really appreciate that. I’ve seen the opposite and I love that it’s becoming more normal to see women in construction. And at AP, they’re really showing that they’re trying to make that commitment to that normalcy.

Q: When there’s a need for construction workers at all levels in the industry, it certainly makes sense to have a welcoming atmosphere for 50% of the population, right? Can you can you talk about that a little bit? What are some of the challenges and opportunities when it comes to gender equity?

A: Absolutely. I think where we need to focus is starting early, again, with normalizing women in construction — starting as early as elementary school, like career days — and showing that there are women in construction and women role models in construction.

As for the trades, I think apprenticeship programs — and this is for men and women in general — showing that the trades are a viable career. It’s a career path; it’s not just a job. I think that sometimes it has a stigma that it’s a job, but it really isn’t. And right now, I feel like there’s kind of a shift in our society that’s becoming more open to alternate career paths not going through a four-year college. And this is a great opportunity to do that.

I have a 5-year-old daughter, and she’ll probably just think that’s normal [for women to be in construction]. I’m hoping at least. So I think making even more representation in books and TV and movies, and not with a pink hardhat, but legitimately doing work and putting work in place and management.

There’s a huge labor shortage. There is more than enough room. Right now construction is outpacing manufacturing. Our materials can’t keep up with the amount of work that we have. So it’s a great time to get into this industry.

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