To celebrate Women in Construction Week, we're sharing stories throughout the month from women in variety of positions within the industry, from intern to craft professional to chief operations officer. Thank you to these empowering women! Katrina-Kerschheadshot-08-20-14-221x300Katrina Kersch is the senior director and chief operations officer of NCCER and oversees product development, program services, credentialing and compliance services. She was previously the director of workforce development as well as the NCCER Sponsor Representative for Marek Family of Companies, a large commercial subcontractor based out of Houston. Her background also includes serving as director of education for the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation and executive director of the Construction Career Collaborative. Rachel Burris, NCCER communications manager, recently sat down with Katrina to learn what drew her to the construction industry and draw from her wealth of knowledge. RB: How did you first get started in the construction industry? KK: I actually answered an ad for coordinator at the ABC Pelican Chapter in Louisiana. At the time, I was teaching second grade in a leave position and needed a better career. Teaching is wonderful but I was looking for something a little different with more opportunity to advance. When I first took the job at the ABC Pelican Chapter, I didn't really connect. I didn't understand what the construction industry was about or what those training centers do. And then, instantly I fell in love with the whole thing. I love the concept of adult education and helping adults find different career paths. RB: What was your defining moment? KK: I had been coordinating events and classes for the ABC chapter for about two years. One my jobs was to get the evening classes started, make sure all the instructors had what they needed and the students found the rooms. I was sitting outside, taking a break before classes got started. This young guy, probably about 24, who was taking our welding classes sat down next to me. He was visibly upset so I asked him what was wrong. He said that he'd just left the doctor's office with his wife who'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had months to live. He was devastated. They had three young children, from six months to three and a half. I told him to come in the office and I'll refund your money. You need to go home and take care of your family. We'll let you pick up your training right where you stopped. And he said, I can't. My wife made me promise to stay in this class because that is the best way she knows for me to be able to take care of the children when she's gone.PullQuote-Generations It was a defining moment for me. I wanted to help people be able to take care of their families. He stayed in class and graduated. She was not there but his kids and family were. He went on to be able to take care of his children. It's life changing to know that what we do doesn't only impact a handful of people; it impacts generations. We don't help just one person, we help their family. It's a great thing. RB: What is your favorite part of your career? KK: My favorite is interaction at the craft professional level. Unfortunately, I don't get to do that as often as I used to. One of the most exciting and rewarding parts to date has been watching graduates walk across the stage and see their families' reactions. Some of them have not had a formal graduation and this is a proud moment for them and their kids, spouses and parents. I truly am inspired by craft professionals in general. I think they are so incredibly talented and intelligent. Sometimes we don't appreciate how completely complicated their jobs are and how much knowledge they have. We think of it as a second career if they don't go to college or can't make it. Yet these are people that understand extremely complex formulas and run sophisticated equipment. They work all day, sometimes under difficult conditions, and put their heart into their projects. RB: Have you had mentors along the way? KK: Interestingly, most of my mentors weren't necessarily women. Although there were certainly a few, there were not a lot of women in our industry when I started. One of my earliest mentors was Linda Jones at the ABC Texas Coastal Bend Chapter. She ran the training program there and I loved having her as a mentor. Other mentors include Mike Gremillion with ISC; David Fuequa with Zachary; and Butch Ford with Austin. Those are the ones that really helped me understand the business, the needs of the craft professionals and how I might be a value to the contractor world. One of things that I learned early was to be a servant and to be of service. I never said that's not my job or I don't know how to do that. I think I learned that no is never a good answer; instead, I don't know yet or let me go find out. RB: What are some steps to help attract more women to the industry? I think women, young women especially, really need to understand how diverse careers can be in this industry. We have the obvious, such as a pipefitter, welder, millwright, etc. There are great opportunities for women in those fields and it's wide open. There's also insular careers that go along with construction, such as accounting, HR, education and workforce like me, marketing and more. It's as diverse as any other industry. Construction has an entrepreneurial vibe to it. It feels like you're not constrained by a formal education or who you know. It's all about what you're willing to do for yourself and how much you're willing to sacrifice. PullQuote-Dont
RB: What is your #1 piece of advice for women who want to get into the construction industry?
I would say don't hesitate. Don't be afraid. Don't think that you can't have a seat at the table because there is room for women in construction. Don't hesitate because maybe you feel like it's a male-dominated industry because that's changing. It's a very unique opportunity to distinguish yourself.

Read more highlights of women in construction here.

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About NCCER

NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.