As an extension of Women in Construction Week (WIC) – The Construction Careers Council has a mission to celebrate, educate and promote the roles of women in construction. The Council set out to highlight the women who currently work within West Michigan’s industry through our “Women Who Build West Michigan Series.” The goal is to inspire and educate specifically young women but also those interested in being a part of our next generation’s construction workforce.
I sat down with women across West Michigan to discuss their career path, the work they do, what they like or dislike about their role, what motivates them and much more. Our conversations were authentic and the women I interviewed have a wealth of stories and tips to becoming successful.
Our third interview was with Maddie Piotter. Maddie is a purchasing and estimating coordinator for JTB Homes. Maddie has an incredible story as she started her journey as a cashier at a local Home Depot to having a prominent role with a larger home builder in West Michigan! Maddie has a great outlook on her career and life in general. Check out what she had to say!
Q: Mac Dodds
A: Maddie Piotter
Q: You are a purchasing and estimator coordinator for JTB. For those who don’t know what exactly that role is?
A: On the purchasing side we look for the best prices and quality, and make sure we have the necessary material needed for jobs. For the estimating, we determine how much material, how much time and how the project budget is affected if a client wants to change our plans or make an adjustment to one of our options within our housing plans. If you want to add four feet to the back of your house- we figure out how much concrete, how much drywall and how much paint all of that will cost. And then we give that to the architecture and sales team to present to the buyer.
Q: You explained that one of your prior employers Beacon Building Products was huge for development, and where you learned the most. Can you elaborate on that?
A: I would say this – if you have been in West Michigan for a while, you know that it is a very tight-knit community, which can be both good and bad. I started to make a bit of a name for myself and made some connections, then I could focus on being confident and knowing my work instead of worrying about being the only woman in the office. At Beacon I was surrounded by a lot of great male co-workers that didn’t care about having a female coworker. They often told me that I knew more than them, and that is where I got my confidence. I was okay with asking questions, which they respected since I wanted to learn. And they loved to teach!
Q: Is there anything you wish you knew in either high school or college about the construction industry?
A: I wish I'd known in high school the options available. I grew up in East Lansing and I don’t think there was a lot of effort for people to come in and say, “Hey here are your options, here’s what you can do in certain areas professionally, in college or in other routes.” I wish I had known about other opportunities and would have expanded my options. To be 17 and have an exact plan or path you want to achieve is rare. That’s great for those individuals, but few 17-year-olds know what they want to do. If you had told me at 17 that this is where I work, I would have laughed because I didn’t know a thing about building a house. So yes, I would say being more open to different opportunities.
Q: Looking back now, does it make you appreciate your journey?
A: Yes absolutely. I am now deeply passionate about paving the way for people in this industry, especially young women. I want them to know there are opportunities. If you want to be an interior designer, great. If you want to be an architect that’s awesome too, or if you want to be a superintendent, just go for it! The lack of women in the industry is a driving force for me now. I want young women to know that you don’t just fall this into this industry because it pays the bills. This industry is cool and young women should want to be doing it!
Q: When we spoke earlier you mentioned customers would walk past you to talk to a male coworker. Have you seen any shift from that in the past 5 years?
A: It's still going to take some time, and this industry has a long way to go. But I think surrounding yourself with the right people and having them in your corner removes that obstacle. It's all perception. Right now, I have the best boss in the world, and I know that he will support me. He is willing to work with me and help me grow. That’s how we can be better; showing people around us that we can go to somebody else or taking the time to educate others about the industry. In fact, did you know there’s only one outside sales female exterior representative in Grand Rapids? I finally met her and she’s a part of the PWB (Professional Women in Building Council of Grand Rapids). It is wild that we have four or five exterior building products distributors here in Grand Rapids and one female sales representative. So, there’s work to do.
Q: Tell me about the groups you are involved in and why you joined.
A: I appreciate the PWB way of creating bonds and promoting themselves to help the community. Members of the PWB are reading “House that She Built” to elementary schools in the area to promote women in construction. They do a great job of promoting the industry and helping it grow.
The National Association of Women in Construction is a group that brings women in and connects them to all sides of the construction industry. From commercial to soils and structures to home builders, it encompasses all aspects of the industry. My biggest goal is forming connections and relationships, so I attended a few of those meetings. That’s why I joined, but also because rallying together as women in a male-dominated industry has been great. I am extremely grateful for this group. Our marketing director here at JTB brought me into the fold and the connections I have made between interior designers, loan officers, project managers, sales -- people from all over -- have been phenomenal. It helps me as an individual because I see confident women getting together and not worrying about the daily barriers we face. I get to meet a bunch of like-minded women and bring in new products to our business.
Q: What would you want to say to young women who are thinking of joining the industry.
A: I would say good luck and don’t give up! You will have plenty of tough days like everyone else but keep asking questions and don’t give up- no one will criticize you for asking. It is hard but fun and there are great people in this industry. Once you find your group, stick with them, and learn from them. They’ll teach you everything you need to know. Make all the connections you can as well, it doesn’t matter if you’re a landscaper and you talk to a painter; you never know what advice they may offer. This really is a great community; you feel good about your work, and we have plenty of programs to help people. Finally, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Go check out a jobsite if you can!
Please continue to stay up to date with our “Women who Build West Michigan” series and if you have someone you know in the construction industry you think should be recognized or has a great story, you can always reach out by visiting our website.