Women in Construction Week: SAM PM, Michelle Powell, on the Construction Industry

March 2, 2020

Tell us how you got your start in this industry.

I was working at the mall and miserable, so I spoke with my uncle about helping me find a job surveying. My uncle is the City Surveyor in Las Vegas and he directed me to go to see Dwayne Williamson (Construction Manager and Associate at SAM) who was working for VTN Nevada at the time. The construction industry was booming. Dwayne managed all the construction survey crews, and he gave me a chance as a green rod person. It was super tough at first — carrying all the equipment and working outside, but gradually I learned and got tougher. I fell in love with construction and never want to do anything different. I’ve been at SAM now for over 10 years.

In what ways do you feel women serve as a visible component of the construction industry?

When I first started working in construction, the only women you saw on a job site were the house cleaners and the women on the lunch truck. In an office with about 40 employees in production, there was only one female engineer and there weren’t any female technicians.

Now, more and more often I am seeing and working alongside female superintendents, architects and engineers. On visits to the jobsites recently, I have seen entire painting crews of women; some framers and general labor, but best of all they no longer seem to be the focal point on a jobsite. They are working alongside men, seamlessly.

How would you characterize the growing role of women in the industry?

I would say that our growing role is going to help balance the views and perceptions of what women are capable of.

What advice would you give to women on how they can plan and prepare for a career in construction?

Plan on getting a pair of boots on and actually doing the work. Ask questions — don’t be afraid to let people know that you don’t know it all, but want to know as much as possible. The amount of knowledge you will gain by doing the work will help pave the way to being respected and growing your career.

What developments do you foresee will be introduced in future construction projects and/or as an industry overall?

Robotics and machine control devices are revolutionizing the way construction is being performed. In addition, models can now be created for large scale projects that are detecting design flaws and issues long before they are discovered in the process of building. This increases the speed and efficiency of construction far beyond what we have encountered in the past. I would foresee that these types of aids to construction will only become more pervasive to the industry and its success.