Mittie Cannon, director of workforce development for Alabama-based contractor Robins & Morton, has a solution to attract more young women to construction as a career—draw in their mothers, too. Local construction companies and state workforce developers teamed up to support “Power Up: It’s a Mother-Daughter Thing,” a craft demonstration event that drew nearly 1,500 middle-school girls and mothers to Birmingham last month.

The March 22 event challenged students to lay bricks, assemble motors and do virtual seam welds, among other craft skills. The program, a collaboration of Robins & Morton and statewide industry and government groups, was designed to encourage female middle-school students to consider construction as a career path. “We have [well-paying] jobs in Alabama, but many require technical skill, not just a four-year degree,” said Antiqua Cleggett, executive director of a state workforce development council. “The goal is to show young people that there are multiple pathways to livable-wage careers.”

Each student attendee had to submit a written essay that described the typical day of a female construction worker. Girls also had to bring along their mothers, though fathers were welcome. “They had to do everything as a team, and they felt inspired and empowered,” Cleggett said. A non-threatening environment contributed to program success. “I love this. I’m learning about how to use tools,” said Destinee Bates, who will enter high school this fall. “I would never have thought of this option.” Destinee said she plans to go to college, but her mother, Desiree, wanted to explore all career options with her.

The state construction force is getting older and smaller, which has prompted industry group Go Build Alabama’s accelerated replenishment. “We have spoken to 30,000 to 40,000 eighth-graders” and advertised on the Nickelodeon cable channel, said spokeswoman Sandy Berry.

Associated General Contractors participants taught students how to use basic jobsite tools, while Lincoln Electric experts allowed them to try virtual welding. “Women make great welders,” said Troy Gurkin, Lincoln’s local district manager, noting their attention to detail, hand-eye coordination and ability to follow procedures. Marvin Ford, a local high-school masonry instructor, said the work gives students a creative outlet.

The instructor credited program guest Kayleen McCabe, a host on cable TV’s DIY Network, with inspiring the girls. “She talked about creativity, and it opened many eyes,” Ford said. Cleggett said one student, who was unenthusiastic about construction in her essay, became totally engaged with her masonry tools. “We are changing the mind-set overnight,” she said.