Lego building contest encourages girls to pursue construction careers

Austin

Mille McCann (right) and her sister build Lego creations on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Lego-building competition this weekend for elementary-school girls aims to showcase careers in construction in order to reduce the gender disparity in the industry.

The Block Kids Building Competition, a partnership between the Girl Scouts of Central Texas and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), will feature 50 girls from kindergarten to sixth grade. Each will get 100 Lego blocks and one hour to build whatever she chooses.

Sunday’s competition is already full, but NAWIC plans to host more of them in the future. The winners will advance to a regional competition, and eventually to a national contest.

“It’s just a really good precursor to get kids interested,” in various aspects of construction, said Jana McCann, a NAWIC member whose daughters will be competing on Sunday.

McCann works for a construction staffing company, so she sees firsthand the disparity between men and women. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show only about 1-in-10 construction industry workers is female.

“I’m hoping that with this new decade we start to see some changes,” McCann said.

A need for workers

Construction companies across the U.S. are struggling to find qualified employees, according to surveys from the Associated General Contractors of America.

Looking ahead to 2020, 88 percent of firms in Texas told the trade group they expect to need more workers this year. But the majority of construction companies — 75 percent — say worker shortages are among their biggest concerns for the new year.

By increasing the number of women who are pursuing construction careers, NAWIC members hope to fill the need for workers.

“It’s something that with the right training and determination and desire, you know, anybody can be an architect or an engineer or a foreman,” McCann said.

Legos as building blocks

At the Lego resale shop Bricks and Minifigs in northwest Austin, kids and adults alike come in to buy the blocks in bulk and seek out out-of-production models that other enthusiasts have traded in.

Gary Friedman, the shop’s owner, is a former elementary school teacher. He’s seen how the blocks are used in classrooms, not just for the kids but for educator development, too.

“It allows you to take a concept and see it in 3D very easily,” Friedman said. “And then you can take it and rearrange it and do something else.”

The freedom to explore, design, build and rebuild gives kids the building blocks to seek new careers in engineering or construction, NAWIC believes.

That’s what McCann’s 9-year-old daughter, Mille, likes about it. “I get to use my own mind and make anything I want,” she said.

In her Bastrop home Thursday, Mille worked on a flower shop she was building with Lego blocks, rearranging hot-pink bricks until she got the building’s footprint just right.

She’s not sure whether she’d ever want to build one in real life, but her mom wants her to have the opportunity to do so. Jana McCann said her own father, a construction worker, didn’t want her in the industry.

Now that she is, she wants to encourage her daughters to keep an open mind.

“Besides just swinging a hammer or digging a ditch, there’s so many different things that they could do in construction.”

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