Mother’s Day is nearly upon us, and in honor of hardworking moms around the world, Goodfellow Bros. would like to recognize and thank all our moms in the office and field for all you do each and every day to help us fulfill our mission to be the contractor of choice.
As part of the celebration, we are spotlighting a few of our amazing mothers in the craft, blazing the trail as laborers, operators and more, who strengthen our industry and organization, one job at a time. These women are part of an increasingly diverse workforce in what has historically been a non-traditional career choice. But the three women we spotlight in this story are representative of change that is evident in statistics. From an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data 2015-2019, Smart Asset analysts found that the fastest-growing jobs for women are in construction. Specifically, the study revealed that construction managers, construction and maintenance painters and construction laborers showed increases of more than 50% in female workers in those five years. While those jobs are still held by predominantly men, women are beginning to change the face of the industry in the field.
We begin our spotlights of women in the crafts with a trailblazer.
Big Machines-Big Dreams
Keeley Black (Bontog) is a mother of two and a veteran equipment operator of 16 years.
Keeley joined the Operating Engineers Local 3 (Laborers Union Local 368) as an apprentice in 2005, at the age of 21. She was attracted to the industry through her father, who was in the construction business and would take his young daughter with him to the yard to see the equipment. She recalls, “I loved big machines.”
Keeley finished her apprenticeship with the union and went to work. Over the years, she has learned to operate all different types of heavy equipment including loaders, rollers and her personal favorite, excavators on projects throughout Oahu for various companies including Parsons, the Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company and Road and Highway Builders.
Over that same timeframe, she has had two daughters, one 15 and, the newest member of the family, is two. About a year ago, work with her current employer slowed so she called one of the project managers at Goodfellow Bros. in Oahu. He said, we’ve got work, when can you start? Keeley started the following Monday. Since that day, she’s become an integral and important part of the Goodfellow Bros. family.
When asked about motherhood and her career, Keeley confirms it’s a difficult balance. “I’m up every morning at 4:00 am with my 2-year-old so that I can spend time with her and be at work around 6 am.”
She continues, “What I really love about Goodfellow Bros. is that they’re very family oriented. When I need time off, it has to do with my children. But we work together as a family. We treat each other as family here and the guys I work with are awesome. I love it and, bonus, while it’s a lot of responsibility, my job is fun. I love digging and seeing the end results.”
Keeley recognizes that she’s setting an example for her daughters and likely other women about what’s possible as a woman in the construction industry.
“I’m especially proud that my daughter sees a world of opportunity,” she confirms. “She talks about being a doctor, or a veterinarian…or maybe even an equipment operator. When I first started, there were people that didn’t think I should be an operator; that it was a man’s job. But I stuck to my interests.”
She encourages, “Every woman has to pave her own path. It’s not always easy, but we can do it. Don’t give up.”
Seeking Knowledge and Setting an Example
Also based in Oahu, Willolyn “Kapena” Jose came to the industry in a slightly different way.
Kapena explains, “I didn’t really have any dreams of working in construction—but I was looking for a career with good pay and benefits. I’d worked in other capacities since I was 18 years old and just wasn’t seeing any real progress, low pay and no benefits. My dad was a laborer so I knew through him that unions provided opportunity. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I needed more security for me and my kids. So I joined Local 368.”
Kapena was 36 at the time, and a single parent to her son, 17, and her daughter, 15. “My brother-in-law and nephew both work for the union so that gave me a heads-up about preparing for boot camp,” she says. “They had me doing dead lifts and other exercises in preparation for the boot camp. I’d never heard of that, but that preparation really helped.”
The week-long boot camp included carrying concrete blocks, hand digging a 2’ x 2’ x 4’ trench, moving gravel with a wheelbarrow, building a two-level scaffold, stacking lumber and using a screed.
“It was rough at first because I didn’t know what to expect,” Kapena recalls. “There were some women that chose not to continue, but I knew my kids were old enough to understand commitment and I’m trying to lead by example. I strongly believe that if you commit to something, you have to finish.”
Not surprisingly, Kapena passed boot camp and moved to the field—and she’s been on the job with Goodfellow Bros. now for five years.
“Goodfellow Bros. is an awesome company, especially for a single parent,” says Kapena. “I appreciate that they make it possible for me to attend important events and activities. In my first year working for them, my daughter was competing in high school judo tournaments, which were always on Saturdays. Since we work most Saturdays, my foreman always made sure I was available to go watch. That year, she won the state judo competition. That was my first demonstration of Goodfellow Bros. commitment to family.”
When asked about her job, Kapena quickly emphasizes, “What I love about being a laborer is the variety. One day might be backfilling trenches, the next working with carpenters and masons, then maybe laying pipe. This is the perfect job for anyone that loves to be outside and learn new things.”
She admits that not everyone is supportive of her career choice, but, for her, their opinion doesn’t matter. Kapena emphasizes, “You’re going to have people that don’t like what you’re doing, but it’s not about them. It’s about what you want to do. I’ve been on many crews with Goodfellow Bros. that treat you as an equal. You’re not judged by gender, but quality of work. If you’re interested, just go for it.”
Building a Career
Mother of two, Kimberly Carrasco, has been with Goodfellow Bros. in Livermore, California as a laborer for five years, though she admits it seems like it’s been all of her life.
She laughingly says, “My dad was in the landscaping business, and I was around 7 years old when I started going to work with him in the summers and on weekends. I loved to be outside working.”
But it was not until she went to work for the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA Local Union 270) in San Jose, California at the age of 20 that she would find her way into the trades. “I worked as an administrative assistant,” she says. “During that time, I talked to women working as laborers in the field and that really motivated me.”
After five years as an administrative assistant, Kimberly initiated as a laborer at the age of 27 and got into the field working for Goodfellow Bros. just six months after her second child was born. At the time, her firstborn was just 18 months old.
Her first job was on a demanding high-tech office campus in Cupertino and she was working seven days a week. She recalls, “I was pushing foam backfill, managing trucks for material hauls, spotting machines, flagging—a bit of everything, that’s the fun of the job.” Next, she moved to another high-tech office jobsite, this time more focused on quality control, timecards, and managing daily cost and production.
Kimberly says, “Being a mother in construction is like being on the clock 24/7 with few breaks. But it is very rewarding to see our hard work come to fruition. I can look back and tell my kids, your mom was part of that team that built that amazing project.”
With help from Goodfellow Bros. and the Union, Kimberly is also continuing her education. She’s taken classes like blueprint plan reading and she’s also earned a minor in Labor Studies in 2019, with the goal of earning a degree in Construction Management down the road.
She also believes she’s setting a good example for her children, especially her daughter. Kimberly says, “I want her to see that with hard work and determination, a woman can be successful in non-traditional trades and balance work and family life. I love what I do. Fortunately, Goodfellow Bros. has always found ways to support, mentor and guide me through my career paths so that I excel and grow as an individual and mother.”
She recalls that during the pandemic, the company was flexible and supportive about her need to be physically present with her children’s distance learning education.
Kimberly adds, “During these uncertain times, I am very grateful to work for a company I can call family.”
When asked what advice she has for other women, she concludes, “Do not be afraid or overwhelmed. Be the voice to spread the word, so that other women that are undecided about a career in construction can see the opportunities available. Construction needs female brains, skills and problem solving! Be up for the challenge and never give up, so that we can be part of changing the perceptions and culture in construction.”