Whitney and Kerry Estes, a mother-daughter duo working for BMWC, specialize in orbital welding for BMWC out of UA Local 440. Women are a minority in the construction industry, making this combo especially rare. Kerry brings 34 years of experience and dedication to the field. Whitney, a third-generation construction worker, quickly learns the trade as an apprentice.
A Family Bonded Through Construction
Whitney’s Story (Daughter)
As a third-generation construction worker, Whitney is among a long list of family members who sought work in the industry. But construction wasn’t the first path for Whitney. After landing a scholarship, she felt the need to utilize the opportunity for free education by pursuing psychology. Once she graduated college, she started working as a therapist for youth but soon realized that wasn’t for her. At times, the empathy she felt for her clients was too much to bear. She brought a lot of the stress from work home with her, and Kerry could see how it affected home life. As time passed, Whitney felt drawn toward following her mother’s footsteps in construction, “440 is what my family does, 440 is what I know.”
Kerry was hesitant about supporting such a decision because of concerns regarding Whitney’s health-related issues. However, seeing Whitney flourish made Kerry realize that construction is what Whitney was meant to pursue, “I feel blessed because Whitney looks forward to work. She clearly loves what she does, and that passion is something that everyone should have.”
Kerry’s Story (Mother)
“34 years in, and I still learn new ways of doing things,” Kerry boasted and reflected on her past. Growing up, she witnessed her father, dedicated to construction, work long and hard to provide what he could for the family. For this reason, like Whitney, Kerry didn’t initially consider joining the trade. Instead, she dreamt of proudly serving in the Marines. Unfortunately, plans changed when Kerry received a call that changed everything. Her mother was ill and needed constant care. So, without question, Kerry shifted gears and became her mother’s caretaker. Leaving her with questions about where to go from there and what that meant for her future.
Kerry chose to pursue a career in construction and quickly began her apprenticeship. After about 20 years of work in industrial maintenance, she heard of a position opening for orbital welding. With much consideration, Kerry chose to reach out to Scott Reynolds (BMWC Superintendent) to see if the opportunity was still available. There was a significant boom in workload during that time, which meant Kerry could start the orbital welding position for 8082 within a few weeks. She remembers her mentor, Ralph Palmer (Boomer), showing her the ropes with the welding machinery. She knew immediately that this was her newfound calling, and so did her peers. A specific memory that validated her feelings about making the switch was when Boomer looked at her and stated, “This is where you need to be.” The rest is history.
A recent project in Indiana offered a rare opportunity for Whitney and Kerry to bring their combined skills to the test. At the start of her construction journey, Whitney is gaining skills while working as an apprentice. Being able to get advice and insight from her mom is invaluable. Plus, according to Whitney, being Kerry’s daughter comes with some perks, “It has been to my advantage that people know my mom because I have a lot of people who look out for me because of her.” With Kerry’s influence within the trade, Whitney has a reputation to uphold, “I strive to not only make a name for myself but preserve my mom’s name.”
Kerry reiterates Whitney’s point further by saying a phrase that had clearly been recited by Kerry many times throughout life before, “Go in and prove yourself. Prove you are a hard worker. Show that you want to learn. If you don’t know how to do something, don’t do it wrong, and then beg for forgiveness, ask questions. In response, Whitney illustrated that the typical mother-daughter dynamic is still very apparent on the jobsite, “I still get the mom look at work.”
Whitney’s dedication to the field comes from self-motivation and determination, which is credited to a strong upbringing. Her mother played an influential role and helped prepare her for what life had to offer, “My mom sharing her stories when I was young about her experiences helped me know what to expect.” Whitney expands on a time when she was younger, and Kerry would show up to a softball match, “Growing up, everyone’s mom could go home and get dressed up to attend the softball games, but my mom was dressed almost like the dads. She was out there coaching, and I would always think, ‘My mom’s badass.’”
Kerry also benefits from working with her daughter and feels that Whitney has taught her a thing or two when it comes to organization. Since joining the team, Whitney has instilled a way to increase production by clearly labeling ISOs with highlighters to map out the plan. This helps make the pertinent information easier to identify. Additionally, the psychology degree that Whitney obtained prior gives her an upper hand in defusing situations through practicing patience. Kerry feels that Whitney teaches her invaluable lessons about handling conflict and managing a challenging project by being mindful.
The Future is Now
“When I was in school, trade schools were talked about in a negative tone,” Kerry asserted with optimism in her voice. Kerry has observed a shift in how people view trades and feels it has facilitated growth in the field, especially among women, a trend that has statistics to back it up. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), since 2017, the number of women in the construction trades has increased by 17.6 percent. This is considered astronomical in terms of sector growth.
Even so, women are still underrepresented within the field. Fighting diversity can be a challenge for minorities in any instance, which is why workers like Kerry and Whitney are so important. Since women are a minority in the construction industry, Women in Construction Week was created to celebrate those who face adversity through inclusion. Through continued efforts and positive reinforcement by peers, the stigmas surrounding women in construction will lift. Thus, barriers to entry will subside through healthy inclusion practices.
Find more information here on Women in Construction Week and how BMWC strives to instill rich culture by cultivating a sense of inclusion.