This story originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of InSpire Magazine.
Written by Gloria Hafemeister & Photography by Travis Pohl of E&M Photography
The manufacturing sector today is facing a tremendous shortage of skilled employees. As a result, it can no longer afford to ignore the desire, talent or energy of anyone, male or female, who is passionate about making a difference in this vital industry. Just ask Annette Whyms, a graduate of Moraine Park Technical College’s Civil Engineer Technician program. Annette is a residential estimator at Zuern Building Products in Allenton, a job that was traditionally reserved for men a generation ago.
Her main duty is to create material lists for primarily residential construction projects. These lists can include everything from rough lumber and siding to interior mill-work and windows. Annette says, “On a typical day, I work on sizing and designing the structural components of the building and determining what materials are needed. Most days, I also spend a good portion of time problem-solving with salesmen and builders and answering any questions they may have on the projects I have done for them.” Annette says she felt well-prepared and confident about her position when she first began because of the training she received at Moraine Park Technical College. As a result, the fact that she is a woman has not been an issue.
The basis for success in her career came early, beginning with her parents who she says instilled in her the values and motivation to be the best person she could be. Annette grew up helping her dad around the house. She describes him as a “stereotypical handyman,” and he allowed her to help with plumbing, painting, woodworking, electrical, and more. She says, “I loved being able to work hands-on, fixing and making things or solving problems.”
She adds, “I wasn’t sure if or how I could make a career out of that type of work until I came to the Career Center at Moraine Park. After researching the different programs, they suggested I enroll in the Civil Engineering Technician program.” The program exposed Annette to a wide range of career paths as well as the building and creating side of the program.
She had been home-schooled, so the classroom experience itself was completely new, but she says, “The beginning of my first semester in a classroom filled with all guys was a bit daunting. I walked into that classroom and I was the only girl – and a blonde at that.” It took a few weeks before she became more comfortable and realized that both her program teacher and classmates were welcoming and helpful. “I can honestly say that not once have I felt stereotyped or discriminated against. In school, my teacher never treated me differently than any of the other male students,” she recalls.
Once working at Zuern, Annette says she never felt that men distrusted her knowledge or abilities simply because she was a female. She notes, “I may have benefited, however, from having a female estimating co-worker, Michelle Disterhaft, who has worked for Zuern for some time. Her expertise is very respected and trusted by all of the Zuern employees and customers. She paved the way and made it easier for me to follow in her footsteps.”
“I am learning so much about residential construction, and my co-workers are incredibly knowledgeable and willing to teach me,” she says. She is grateful to have been the recipient of a scholarship through the college. Because of that financial help, she was able to concentrate her efforts in school on learning and did not need to hold down a job at the same time. “By knowing I didn’t have to find a job while still in school just to afford my education, I was able to get the most out of my time at college as well as give back to my fellow students and the community,” she says.
Annette was involved in several school organizations, including the Civil Engineering Technology Club, and she also served as a tutor for fellow students, helping them understand concepts and succeed in their efforts. “I loved tutoring for the Structural Analysis class. It was probably my favorite class in the whole program,” she says.
While there are those who say there is still discrimination in the workplace, Annette believes there are opportunities for anyone in any field if they have a sincere interest and ability. “So much attention is given to the presumption that women will not be treated equally when entering traditionally male careers, but nothing I have experienced supports that theory,” she states.
“I think that as a society, we have progressed to the point where knowledge and ability outweigh gender concerns. If you can prove to your teachers, classmates, co-workers, or boss that you can perform your job as well as or better than anyone else, they won’t think twice about your gender.”