They get dirty like everyone else on the jobsite. But unlike the majority of workers in industry, civil and environmental construction, Jennifer Schneider and Marcie Rossow are mothers who put in long, hard hours in non-traditional roles. Their work is rewarding yet challenging. It allows them to provide for their children, and with the help of others, they’re able to balance the demands of both their professional and personal passions.
Many women in the construction industry face obstacles that their male counterparts do not encounter. Schneider and Rossow are among those who break new ground daily to prove themselves and are an inspiration to their families and colleagues. Testing aggregate materials in a lab and driving a dump truck are not just their jobs, but their chosen careers.
Jennifer (Jenny) Schneider
Aggregate Quality Control Manager Ulland Brothers
Background: I was born and raised in Plainview, Minnesota, the youngest of four kids and the only girl. When I was 9 years old, I worked at our local canning factory picking rock in the fields. When I was 11, I milked on a 280-cow dairy farm and later worked at a motocross track, gas station, local pizza place and John Deere dealership. I also worked outdoors for the city of Plainview. I graduated in 2002 and knew I wanted to work outside and with my hands
What she does: I’m the aggregate quality control manager for Ulland Brothers construction in Albert Lea and have been with the company for five and one-half years. I test all the aggregates that we wash and crush and make sure they are up to specifications. Everything from sand and rock to blacktop and concrete has specifications. I also assist with quality control for hot-mix asphalt. My work involves certifying piles, talking with the state and other contractors who buy our materials, and making my rounds to each pit and quarry to get samples and bring them back to the laboratory to run tests. I’m in daily close contact with the crushing superintendent, so we can make changes as needed.
My team in the Ulland lab includes two other women. Nickey is an asphalt quality control manager, and Juanita is a floating lab tech. We work hard and are very proud of our lab and our team. Tell us we can’t do it and then watch us get it done. Quality and safety are our top goals every day.
“Working in a mostly men’s industry can be hard, but if you stick to your guns and know what you’re doing, they will respect you and listen to you. In time, and after proving my worth, people began to trust me and realize a woman can do what a man can do. Women definitely have a place in construction.”
Inspiration and fulfillment:
I started working in construction when I was 18. I had an interview and was hooked. I worked for another company in a lab and was taught everything about construction materials.
When I was 25, I had a baby boy, Keagan. He was born in August, in the heat of construction season. My goal was to be the best mom I could be and still do my job. I was asked to come back to work one week after I had him, because the company was short-handed. My mom came to live with me and watched him during the day. Keagan ended up needing 10 surgeries before he was 2 years old. I would go to work early, leave for his weekly or biweekly appointments, and come back and work late to get everything done. My parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends and even friends’ parents helped me so much over the last 11 years, so I could continue my work and ensure my son was taken care of. I’m forever grateful to everyone who helped us. In 2013, I left that construction company to learn new things, also wanting more time with family.
Being a single mom and working 70 hours a week is no picnic, but one of the most rewarding things is showing my son all the different projects that I’ve had a role in, including bridges, highways, hotels and gas stations. My boyfriend, Kael, and I both work for Ulland Brothers, and recently my son said, “My mom and stepdad work so hard in construction, and when I grow up, I’m going to do that too.”
Background: I grew up on a dairy farm in Dexter, Minnesota, and went to school in Southland. A truck stop was located in Dexter, and I always enjoyed watching semis and other big trucks. After high school, driving truck seemed natural for me. My dream was to drive over the road, but I was only 19 and couldn’t leave Minnesota in a big truck until I was 21, which limited my options. I attended the Riverland Community College truck driver training course in Austin, Minnesota, and received my Class A CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). I was offered a job at a garbage company and worked there for 13 years.
What she does: I’m now a dump truck driver, starting with Elcor Construction in July of 2013. I drive all day and deliver whatever the team that I’m working with needs—sand, gravel, dirt, blacktop, rubble or demolition debris.
Inspiration and fulfillment: I have several lady truck driver friends who I see on the road throughout the day. We all wave and smile. Everyone I work with is respectful, and it makes for a great work environment. I’m a single mother of two boys, and thankfully, my family has been a huge help. I couldn’t do this work without my support system.
“This work can be intimidating, and you have to be confident. Ask questions and stay teachable. You’ll be part of the team, like a big family. Have a sense of humor and never give up. This work is rewarding, and there’s something new and exciting happening every day”
Workforce diversity, stronger companies
Women like Schneider and Rossow comprise only about 10% of the construction industry in the United States, with approximately 21% working in service occupations and 6% in the areas of production, transportation and material moving. Increased recruitment of women is helping to address workforce shortages and meet workforce goals, and it has other major benefits as well.
“All of our jobs are open to women, and we have been taking steps to make opportunities more visible to them,” says Cory Penz, underground utility superintendent and a co-owner of Elcor Construction in Rochester. “We are casting the net wider in terms of workforce diversity, which brings different perspectives and ideas that make our company stronger.”
“Marcie is one of our best drivers, and foremen ask to have her on their projects,” says Penz, noting dump truck driver qualifications include a good driving record and appropriate licensure, in addition to strong organizational and interpersonal skills and the ability to accurately record information about the project, load count, material type and tonnage. Rossow’s experience driving trucks was a plus in becoming a dump truck driver, but companies will train drivers too. “Marcie is a great role model for women who have an interest in truck driving or construction,” he says. “She is hardworking, dependable and pleasant to work with.”
“We are casting the net wider in terms of workforce diversity, which brings different perspectives and ideas that make our company stronger”
Schneider and Rossow found their place in the construction sector. They are great examples of women working in the field and a source of encouragement and inspiration. And they don’t mind getting their hands dirty at all, before heading home to their families after a hard day’s work.