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Women in Construction: An Interview with Kelsey Lorenz

It is not a secret that the construction industry has always been  a male-dominated field, but in the last few years we have seen a rise in the number of women in construction.  It is estimated that the number of women in the industry is about 9.1%. The good news is that the industry is finally breaking down gender barriers and understanding the importance of a diverse workplace.  As our industry faces the ongoing labor shortage, encouraging more women to join the construction field will certainly help fill the missing gaps.

One of these women changing the face of construction, is 26 year old Assistant Project Manager Kelsey Lorenz. Kelsey has been a part of the Miller Electric team since 2014. While in college earning her Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with a Minor in Mathematics, she worked as in intern in the Integrated Systems group. After gaining valuable experience, she moved to the Energy and New Construction group where she wrote many published white papers on renewable energy. Upon earning her degree, she accepted a full time position with Miller Electric as an Assistant Project Manager in Energy and New Construction. Currently, she is involved with one of Miller Electric’s most high-profile jobs: the new state of the art Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville, FL.

Q: You are finishing up the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville which is such an important project for the community as well as the industry.  What does working on this project mean to you?

Community is such an important core value to me. I was born and raised in Jacksonville, so any opportunity I have to give back to my home is something I hold very close to my heart. Baptist MD Anderson has been nothing short of a blessing; not only to the community, but to my career and personal growth as well. There were days when such an important project felt overwhelming, but as opening day came and went, all of those trials and tribulations of completion washed away seeing the faces of the community we serve coming through the doors. Working on Baptist MD Anderson solidified my passion to be a servant to my hometown community.

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced working on this project?

The biggest challenge I faced was the complexity of this building. Since this building is state of the art, there are dozens of specialized medical rooms that required a lot of studying and research on my part to understand how they are supposed to function. Prior to this job, I had never heard of a “Linear Accelerator” or a “High Dose Rate (HDR) room”, so just understanding the magnitude of my responsibilities was something I struggled with in the beginning. As the rooms were being built out, I would be asked questions I didn’t have the answer to which greatly frustrated me. It took a lot for me to learn to say “I don’t have all the answers right now, but I will do some research and get you what you need”.

Q: You recently received your Master Electrical Contracting License, which is quite an achievement, especially at 25 years old. What does that mean for you and the company?

As I said previously, “gap of knowledge” was something that I struggled with in the beginning of my full-time job. Passing the state license test helped solidify everything that I’ve learned in the last 2.5 years and was a big item to get off my career checklist at 25 years old.  As you know, Miller Electric is regarded as a “full career company” (I don’t know the exact number, but something like our average employment duration is 20+ years). Miller Electric is taking the right steps to bring itself into the future by investing in the younger generation, and I’m proud to be a part of a company that cares so much about its employees and their growth.

Q: You earned your Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, worked in Systems Integration, and settled into a role in Energy and New Construction. What attracted you to this specialty?

If you had asked me when I started college “would you like to work in construction”, I would’ve said “absolutely not!”. I had no idea that my dad living down the street from Ed Witt Sr. would result in the greatest step of my adult life. I went into a “construction internship” pretty much blind to the possibilities. It was Miller Electric as a company, and the people that work for them, that made me stay. I come into work and I feel like I’m working with my family. At the start of my internship-turned-career, and even to this day, no question is too small, and no problem is too big for the people I work with. Every day is a party, and you can quote me on that 😉

Q: The number of women in construction has been on the rise.  What do you think are some of the advantages of being a woman in the construction industry?

I think a big advantage is balance. I know the quote traditionally applies to raising a child, but really in all aspects of life “it takes a village”. Having a well-rounded team of people from all backgrounds is going to make whatever task or project much more achievable. Having a different background than a lot of the “traditional construction personnel” brings fresh and new ideas to the industry.

Q: There are physical and emotional challenges that come with working as a woman in construction. What are some of the challenges that you face as a woman?

A big challenge I face internally is “imposter syndrome”. A lot of my internal dialogue is “do I really belong here – are they taking me seriously – am I being laughed at when I get something wrong”, and almost 100% of the time, none of that is the case. Feeling like an outsider in your career field is difficult, but it’s getting much easier as I grow and learn.

Q: You are not only a woman in construction, but you are also a millennial (we know how you guys love when we call you that!).  Your generation seems to gravitate to technology-focused positions. What would you say about the construction industry that would appeal to your generation?

Cutting-edge technology is everywhere! And construction is one of the key driving forces behind that. When you build a state of the art building, you get exposed to the best of what technological growth has to offer. You get to see firsthand how the world is growing, and what advancements are coming with it. Just as an example, out here at Baptist MD Anderson we have the 12th in the world of a brand-new CAT Scan machine and installing that room to meet its requirements was such a treat.

Q:  The construction industry is embracing the advancement of women.  What advice would you give to a young woman entering the industry now?

Don’t let the stereotypes of the industry dissuade you from being a part of it! You can be yourself and still be embraced by all of the people you work with even though construction has previously been mostly male-driven. Also, don’t let it harden you. There are days when you’re going to get your feelings hurt by someone who makes you feel less than, but come through it by staying true to yourself.

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