Ramsey County Women Offer Workforce Solutions
1 Mar 2022
News, Workforce Stories
The Department of Labor has reported approximately 11 million job openings across the nation at the end of 2021. While the American economy added 467,000 jobs in the month of January 2022, women gained just 40.3% of those positions, resulting in one million fewer women in the labor force than February 2020. As such, women offer the potential of an underrepresented pool of workers capable of filling these economic needs.
Local businesses and organizations in Ramsey County, Minnesota, recognize that potential. According to U.S. Census Bureau data for 2020, 142,051 women worked in Ramsey County, 51% of the total employment, but about 10,000 fewer jobs than in 2019. As a result, those groups have a heightened focus today on increasing female workforce participation.
Women in Construction
In 2020, the Ramsey County construction industry included 11,421 employees, of which fewer than 15% were held by women. Today, the construction industry faces a workforce shortage as the current employee base ages out, which has been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Janelle Miller, a contract administrator with Peterson Companies, Inc., likened the current situation of the male population aging out to that which occurred with World War II when many were called away to serve the country.
“Jobs did not just go away as men went off to war, especially in manufacturing, and women stepped in to fill those roles,” she said. “The same is possible today for employers who are having difficulty filling roles because women can do those jobs.”
Miller began her career as a construction laborer, while today, in addition to her work with Peterson, she is a Director for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Chapter of the National Association of Women In Construction (NAWIC) and the Chair of the local events for upcoming Women in Construction Week, provided March 6-12.
“I fell in love with construction while working on projects like the University of Minnesota Steamplant and the Empire Outfall Pipeline in Rosemount. I spent part of my life lugging around a jackhammer, raising iron, and generally playing in the dirt,” she said. “My career in construction has ultimately allowed me to pay for my own college education and raise my son.”
The number of women in construction has increased slowly from when Miller first entered the industry, but the field is ready for more, as acceptance of women in these roles improves, she said.
“The construction industry as a whole has a much greater awareness that these jobs can be filled from many sources,” she said. “The work atmosphere is much more inclusive with most involved realizing the value of diversity.”
Construction jobs have changed over the years, and there is a role for everyone, regardless of physical capacity. Technological development has resulted in much lighter hand tools and batteries, while improved engineering has resulted in fewer roles with high strength requirements. The inclusion of females in the workforce and the understanding of physical limitations on every human body has led to much of that innovation, said Miller.
“In general, women look at problems differently, which can lead to engineering changes that save everyone's backs,” she said.
Construction can be a hard sell to prospective female employees compared to other industries, due to more physical labor combined with the possibility of nontraditional hours creating issues like securing childcare. That underlines the importance of employers finding ways to be more accommodating to employees, said Miller, because the advantages of construction are significant, beginning with a higher pay scale.
“Working in the construction industry gave me the financial freedom to raise my son as a single parent,” said Miller. “Within two years, I went from living with friends to owning a townhome.”
Even more importantly for Miller was the satisfaction she receives from simply performing her work.
“I have a lot of pride in the major projects I was a part of because every time someone in Rosemount turns on their water faucet or their streets don’t flood in a rainstorm, I know they can thank me for that,” she said. “At the same time, I was able to make a good living for myself and my son, while raising him to understand the value of a good work ethic.”
Women for all industries
The country’s massive talent crisis extends across all industries, as more people have left the workforce in the last two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet one underutilized segment exists within all communities: mothers. This problem isn’t new, but it has increased exponentially in the last two years, as 3.5 million mothers have left the workforce to take on the responsibilities of childcare. TIME reported in 2021 that 28% of women with kids under 18 in the household have temporarily or permanently left the workforce to become primary caregivers to their children. The combination of women having children later in life along with the longstanding statistic that 43% of women exit their career after having a child, means businesses are losing key talent at the peak of a career. Resolution is necessary between companies that need workers and these women who want to work now.
One company solving this problem is Bus Stop Mamas, a fast-growing jobs marketplace with virtual headquarters in Roseville. It is built for “Mom Life” with a focus on flexibility and rewriting the playbook for how to recruit and hire. After opening their doors in 2019, Bus Stop Mamas now works with more than 7,000 persons and over 500 companies. Through its own study, Bus Stop Mamas knows its clients want to work - 70% of current mothers say they want to get back into the workforce over the next 18 months.
“Bus Stop Mamas is giving the power back to working mothers and helping companies better leverage what is quickly becoming the most critical demographic in today’s workforce - Mom,” said Bus Stop Mamas founder, Mary Kay Ziniewicz. “We have to be better about providing opportunities for women who want to get back into the workforce but need flexible work to coincide with children as they mature.”
Employers have typically had two lanes to find talent - job boards and recruiters. But most automatic hiring platforms are not suitable for matching the needs of working mothers and employers. Therefore, Bus Stop Mamas is more than just placing workers. It helps employers with their hiring practices.
“Bus Stop Mamas is a new lane where women drive businesses to access a critical demographic,” said Ziniewicz. “Flexibility and purpose are the two main factors for mom when she responds to a job opening.”
Ziniewicz said they are excited to be working with businesses that are crafting jobs to meet their clients’ availability. Major employers like Alerus, Boston Scientific and Caribou Coffee work with Bus Stop Mamas to improve their internal hiring practices through better job descriptions that ultimately result in better recruiting and retention of female employees. As a result, Bus Stop Mamas offers a technological marketplace built for “Mom Life,” said Ziniewicz, that gives businesses access to people they need.
“The pathway to equity in the workplace is flexible work,” she said.