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Springfield, MO

SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton

A Conversation With … Melissa Payne

Building envelope consultant and forensic investigator at Miller Engineering PC

Posted online

According to the Associated General Contractors of Missouri, 71 percent of contractors report difficulty filling hourly craft positions and 20 percent report difficult filling salary positions. There is clearly a gap in the construction workforce. How do you see the industry filling that talent pipeline?
It’s much easier to sit at a desk than to be out in the field and doing construction. But there are better opportunities (in construction) as far as wages go than there used to be simply because it’s a lost trade. It used to be hard labor, less pay. Those specialty tradespeople are now getting to the point where they are retiring, and we don’t have young professionals to come in and take over those positions.

Editor’s note: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly pay as of November 2017 is $29.17 – up about $3 in the last five years.

How else has technology impacted your industry?
All the materials we have. Science has grown and manufacturers are coming up with better, smarter ways and better products that last longer. You’re dealing with lighter construction because it’s much easier to transport. And also lighter products, which have to be put in layers, which are done in the field.

According to the National Association of Women in Construction, females accounted for 1.3 percent of the construction workforce in 2015. You were awarded the Outstanding Women in Construction Vesta Award in November at the Salute to Design and Construction Awards Banquet. What is your advice to women interested in construction?
Go for it. I’d recommend that to anyone. It’s really just looking for an opportunity to excel at what you’re good at. Our industry has really changed, and males are more open to females being in the field. They’ve learned what the value is. I have had contractors tell me they prefer to have a female in the team simply because it helps them look at things from a different aspect. It takes all people to do that.

Multitasking, collaboration and my ability to focus on both the big picture and details at the same time is the combination that I feel has helped me immensely in my career. This does not make me better, it just allows me to bring a skill set that my male counterpart may not possess.

What does Springfield need to do to enhance the construction workforce and keep graduates here?
I think Missouri State University is doing a great job with project management, and Drury is doing a great job – and with engineering, also. You don’t have to go to Rolla to get your engineering degree anymore. We also have (Drury’s) architecture school, which is awesome – and a lot of those architects stay in this area. As far as trades folk, that, I think, is where we’re lacking.

High schools have different programs where they are trying to show (students) the actual hands-on trade. There are building courses they can take – where they actually get to build a house and, through that process, they get to learn a lot of the trades. It would be nice to have more of those types of classes.

I think there is a little bit of a gap still between being fresh out of high school and going straight into the field. But I think some of the technical colleges can help out with that.

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