The Future of the Field: The quest to build an all-women construction crew
Zakiyah Reed, 32, Tebarco Mechanical Corp.
The young professionals we’ve spoken with so far in our Future of the Field Series have big ambitions for their careers in construction, and they are only beginning to lay the groundwork. Such is the case for Zakiyah Reed, 32, a Trimble Crew member for Alpharetta, GA-based mechanical contractor Tebarco.
We talked with Reed about how a desire to build her own home got her into construction, along with her goal of one day running an all-women contracting company, has kept her involved on the job site and in the classroom.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you get into construction?
REED: I was raised by a single mom, and so everything that had to be done around the house, my sisters and I had to do it. I gained an interest in putting things together and being mechanical from a very young age. As I got older, my dream was to build my house from the ground up. So, I decided to go to school for carpentry. I did one year of carpentry at Atlanta Technical College. From there, I met a couple of contractors and worked a few little side jobs, nothing permanent. I was learning the ins and outs of how people move in the business.
You went back to the same school to learn plumbing?
REED: I wanted to build my house from the ground up, and that doesn't just include carpentry, it includes plumbing, electrical, landscaping. I wanted to have a little bit of knowledge of all these areas.
How did you turn that into a career?
REED: I decided that while I’m learning something that I enjoy, why not make money doing it? All I can do is advance myself by learning more. Doing it hands-on just lets me know from the bottom up exactly how everything is supposed to go.
The jobs that I had, I got through social media, Craigslist and classmates that had a little bit more experience and were already out gaining contacts in the field. I took the initiative to start working with them learning the ins and outs of the job. My goal was to just focus on residential, and I never thought I could get as big as commercial until I started working with Tebarco.
How did you find Tebarco?
REED: I found Tebarco during my last month of plumbing school [through a recruiter].
What does your role with Tebarco entail today?
REED: I’m a Trimble crew member, and so I do the field engineering. I use a 3-D model of a project’s mechanical and plumbing systems and locate on the site where everything goes from the ground up. I mark out a sketch of the entire building.
What has been your experience working on the job site?
REED: I work around about a good 65 other guys, or more, and can be the only female at a job. When I first started, it was very intimidating in regards to being a female and not knowing how I was going to fit in and if I was going to be respected. I felt that coming in the door, I always had to work two times harder. I had to prove myself even more to let them know that I'm on the same level.
How did that go?
REED: To me, the proof is in the pudding. Everybody's going to have their impression by the look of you, but no one actually knows what you're capable of. So, I prove it to them. I enjoy people looking at me and thinking I’m not capable of doing this. Once they work with me, they can see I can run a whole job without them. It then becomes, "I want her to work with me." I enjoy knowing that I bring value to the team.
And I don't only try to learn, I try to teach people. If I see my laborers or my helpers doing things incorrectly, or they don't have the knowledge of it, I take the time to give them the knowledge that they need. Because of that, they tend to come to me often for information.
What kind of mentoring has been available to you?
REED: I ask a lot of questions if I don’t understand something. I have worked with experienced people who I trust. You have people who have been doing this for 40 years, so it helps to learn from them in the field. I try to take as much information from everyone as I can and to pass that knowledge down.
What advice do you have for other young professionals pursuing a career in the trades?
REED: Be patient and take in as much information as you can. That will make you a very valuable person in the end.
Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in the next 10 years?
REED: I plan on owning my own residential contracting company, purchasing homes, fixing them up and reselling them. When I thought about starting my construction business, I wanted it to be an all-women business. We need more women in the field.
How are you building that group of women?
REED: On jobs today, I might run into a female electrician here, a female HVAC contractor there, so I exchange information with them and let them know what my goal is. Based on their feedback, I know [an all-women team] is something they're interested in. Hopefully, when I get to that place I'll have them be able to come and join my team.