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The Lifelong Pursuit to Build: A Carpenter’s Story - WIC Week 2023

As we look to diversify our workforce, it is important that we learn about the challenges women face in the field, as well as what motivates them. Manson’s Women in Construction (WIC) Week committee spoke with some of the talented craftswomen at Manson to learn about their experiences as women in construction.

A carpenter in a marine construction trailer.
Lisa Smith at Naval Base San Diego .

Growing up in the bustling city of Cleveland, Ohio, Lisa Smith showed an early interest in learning how buildings and structures were built. When she reached adulthood, Lisa joined her local carpenters’ union as an apprentice. “Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to build things,” Lisa explains. “Cleveland’s construction culture hasn’t always been the most inviting for women, but that didn’t deter me.” Despite facing significant challenges like harassment and gender discrimination, Lisa was motivated. With her apprenticeship, Lisa underwent coursework and on-the-job training to learn the duties and responsibilities of a carpenter.

Not long after, Lisa moved to Columbus, Ohio, and switched unions to continue her apprenticeship program. According to Lisa, the Columbus carpenters union was more inclusive, making it enjoyable for women and minorities to learn the trade. Making significant progress in the program, Lisa participated in several projects in Columbus including hot concrete work. “That was the most challenging project that I’d been on at the time,” Lisa says. “It was my first true test, but I hung in there.”

Looking for a new change in scenery, Lisa, and her boyfriend—also a carpenter by trade—packed their bags and moved across the country to San Francisco, California. When she tried to join the carpenters union in San Francisco, she discovered that some of her course credits were not transferrable. Undeterred by the news, Lisa signed up for additional classes to get her back on track. “It was no big deal to take additional classes,” Lisa explains. “My mind was made up, and this is what I wanted to do.”

A year later, Lisa and her family moved further down the California coast to San Diego, where she learned again that not all apprenticeship classes are universal. Attempting to join Carpenters Local 619, she experienced trouble transferring the credits she earned in San Francisco. Understanding the importance of sticking to one’s goals, she took additional classes to satisfy the union’s requirements. “I appreciated the opportunity to take additional courses, receive more on-the-job training, and learn more about the trade,” Lisa says.

During a chance encounter with Manson General Superintendent Kurt Hinkle, Lisa learned about an opportunity to work on Manson’s Pier 6 Replacement project at Naval Base San Diego (NBSD). “I met Lisa at the ID Card Section at NBSD to learn more about her experience and skills,” Kurt says. “After speaking with her, I called the union business agent at Local 619 to talk to them about her apprenticeship period, and eventually she came to work with us at Pier 6.”

Looking back at her journey to pursue a profession in carpentry, Lisa credits her resilience and determination as the reason she’s in a great position now. “I would not change anything about my journey through the construction industry,” Lisa says. “I stood tall, proud, and stayed motivated to get things done.”

On her days off, Lisa loves spending time with her 15-year-old daughter. An avid traveler, she’s visited several countries and U.S. territories including Columbia, Thailand, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

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