Virtual Construction That’s Helping to Build Real Jobs

By Diana Cisneros
May 11, 2017
A woman at a computer simulates driving a backhoe.

At the beginning of 2016, Iowa Workforce Development and Hawkeye Community College in Cedar Falls came together to consider the statistic that just 2.3% of Iowa’s construction workers are women.

The construction industry has always been male dominated, but in a state where heavy equipment operators are not only in growing demand, but paid an average hourly wage of more than $23, they saw an opportunity.

Through its PROMISE JOBS program, Iowa Workforce Development works tirelessly to connect Iowans – many of them low-income women with families – with training services. Last year, Hawkeye Community College had a fleet of simulators specifically designed to put individuals behind the controls of a backhoe, bulldozer, excavator, wheel loader and other common construction equipment. And with a state grant from the Walmart Foundation, they had the funding they needed to mobilize.

From January through July 2016, the construction equipment simulator trailer made its way to all corners of the state, with stops at each of IowaWORKS’ 15 regional facilities. Anywhere from 150 to 500 Iowans turned out at each location to try their hand at the controls, gauges and equipment systems in a safe, in-cab environment, with supervision from trained instructors. In some instances, representatives from construction companies came out to connect with interested residents on the spot.

Like any industry, construction isn't for everyone. But this collaboration opened the door to the possibility of a new career path – and a better life – for Iowans. The demand for construction workers, regardless of gender, is high. So this collaboration addressed a genuine issue.

For many, it could mean a transition into higher-paying jobs, thus supporting their families and their futures. That’s a scenario where everyone wins.