Dr. Mittie Cannon, Founder of Power UP Inc., is among the featured presenters at the upcoming 2021 ABC Carolinas (ABCC) Annual Construction Conference in Myrtle Beach scheduled for August 18-20. Launched by Dr. Cannon six years ago for young women and their moms in Birmingham, Alabama, Power-Up is a now a far-reaching construction industry workforce development initiative.
In addition to her role as Opening Speaker at the conference’s General Session on Wednesday August 18, Dr. Canon will be leading a breakout session on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on Thursday afternoon. (Register here).
GroundBreak Carolinas chatted with Dr. Cannon to gain insight into Power UP and her vision for its future, particularly as it pertains to the Carolinas.
Tell us about Power UP
Power UP Inc. is a one-of-a-kind, non-profit organization dedicated to developing a diversified and strong workforce for the construction industry. With programs throughout the southeastern U.S. and now Guam, Power Up events have introduced more than 1,000 girls from pre-K to 12th grade to the skilled trades. Power UP is excited to bring some of its programs to the Carolinas.
Each spring, we host our signature event, Power UP: It’s a Mother-Daughter Thing! This unique program was developed for middle and high school-age girls and their mothers (or female guardians). The event is designed to educate, engage and encourage mothers and daughters to explore career opportunities in the skilled trades through fun hands-on activities.
What do you see for Power UP in the future. Possible expansion in the Carolinas?
In response to the post COVID-19 pandemic, we are looking at how we implement/align adult programs with employer needs so participants can secure jobs but with an innovative twist. In addition to partnering with other non-profits, we have partnered with a large building materials company in the construction industry to rethink how we attract talent. On Monday, July 26 we kicked off a special workforce initiative with this national firm… I’ll speak more about at the ABCC Conference.
I see Power UP continuing to support K-12 with programs and workshops, more collaborative partnerships in other states, and more virtual events. I have always wanted to extend Power UP’s reach beyond Birmingham – and we are especially eager to be in the Carolinas. Earlier this year, we had the perfect opportunity to test the interest when we went virtual with our annual event in March. It was a great success: “It’s Mother-Daughter Thing!” event had more participants from the Carolinas than any other state. I believe that a partnership with the ABC Carolinas members would be a great foundation for a Power UP event. Assuming we continue to leverage the virtual platform, we will encourage 6th-12th grade girls and their mothers from all over the world to participate in the years to come.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in workforce development?
Women working in construction account for only a very small percentage of the entire U.S. workforce – at just over 1 percent. Through Power UP and its partnerships with industry leaders, we focus on introducing young girls and their mothers to the many viable opportunities available in the skilled trades – particularly welders and pipefitters.
I feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges in workforce development. These challenges include competing for talent, workplace issues with stress, and mental health concerns.
How can contractors approach and embrace diversity, equity and inclusion?
Contractors can approach and embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion by celebrating employee differences and boosting employee engagement. It is important that contractors consider activities that can create the diversity and inclusion spark in their organizations.
More about Power UP Inc.
Power UP Inc. has developed some additional programs – some of which had to be put on hold during the pandemic. An example is a one-year pilot program with a local school district in Alabama. Following the pilot, Power UP will continue to connect with these girls up to 12th grade through additional sessions. Power UP will provide a certificate upon full completion of all sessions, and those who fulfill the select requirements will also receive a credential.
For middle-schoolers, Power UP has introduced workshops designed for small groups of 8th grade girls to help prepare them for careers in construction. Power UP workshop subjects include coding and electronics, safety, heavy equipment operations, diversity and inclusion, and financial literacy. Power UP recently held a Heavy Equipment Operations workshop for a small cohort of 8th grade girls in Carrollton, Ga. Power UP is in the process of taking this workshop to Arkansas and other states, including the Carolinas. Power UP enjoys hearing the feedback from the girls following their sessions.
For younger children, Dr. Cannon believes it’s never too early to start paving the way for a possible career in engineering and construction. The organization partners with local educators to hold Power UP workshops for very young children. For example, In Birmingham at Robinson Elementary School, a total of 23 boys and girls from two kindergarten classes had the opportunity to learn about electronics and coding through hands-on activities. As evidenced by the kids’ reaction, and that of their teacher, the one-day session was a big hit.
Each month, Power UP recognizes the success and diversity of the female workforce within the construction industry by highlighting an individual on its Women in Construction page. Check it out and learn how these women, along with young students, continue to improve the diversity and status in the construction industry.