In Construction, Stature Isn't Barrier

PITTSTON TWP. - Becky Snyder stands at just 4-foot-11, yet her stature isn't a barrier as she moves earth with heavy machinery powerful enough to knock down a house.

Ms. Snyder, a construction foreman, and Jennifer Coutts operate the largest machines in Pittston Twp.-based Linde Construction's fleet, routinely running bulldozers, loaders and excavators as the company lays miles of pipeline in the Marcellus Shale drilling areas. They work in Dimock, where Ms. Coutts operates heavy machinery with manicured nails.

The pipeline construction industry in the Marcellus Shale region has led to a growth in jobs, and, as Ms. Snyder and Ms. Coutts exemplify, the jobs aren't just for the guys.

According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, the percentage of women in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazleton metro area working in all construction industries in 2011 has increased slightly to 12.8 percent from 11.8 percent five years ago.

Ms. Snyder, 44, of Carbondale, has spent the past 21 years working for Linde, a utility pipeline and heavy construction contractor. She started as a flagger and advanced to laborer and machine operator. As a woman working in a non-traditional career, she said she works to break down barriers every day.

"You have to prove yourself every day. You have to become tough, and you have to become one of them," she said. "It's a challenge out here every day and you learn stuff every day. If you're willing to learn, it's a good place to be. It's a good opportunity for women to be in the construction world and to learn the same as a man could."

Ms. Snyder, a married mother of two, said her family has been patient and supportive over the years as she works long hours and sometimes encounters problems late like hitting water mains. Growing up as a tomboy, she said she always expected she would work in the construction industry. Her family doesn't expect her to cook, she said.

"I never got into cooking or cleaning. I never saw any future in it to tell you the truth," Ms. Snyder said. "I always loved building, ripping and tearing. I was always into construction."

Ms. Coutts, 23, of Carbondale, learned her trade in her father's stone quarry, where she worked while getting a college degree in business from Penn State.

With the area's high unemployment rate at 8.9 percent and a lack of available jobs, she is pleased with her job choice in the construction industry which, according to Linde officials, has a lucrative salary. The pay for heavy equipment operators is typically about $20 to $25 an hour, depending on skills and experience.

"I have a business degree and the economy fell. For me to even go out and even think of getting a job in that field, it wouldn't pay nearly as much so I'd have to take a big pay cut," said Ms. Coutts, adding she loves her job and working outside.

While Linde currently employs two women heavy operators, plans are to hire another woman, said spokesman Kevin Lynn. Women also work in other areas of the company, he said.

As a result of the Marcellus Shale industry, Linde Construction has doubled in size in two years and now employs about 300 people, said president Scott Linde. Gender isn't a factor when hiring, he said. People are hired based on their abilities to do the work, he said.

"We're looking for qualified, safe employees who can operate equipment, especially in the new gas division, and women seem to fit that very well," Mr. Linde said.

Pointing out that machine operators can make up to $70,000 a year, Linde said, "I think it is a good career for anyone in the Northeast who wants to work outside and earn a living that you can definitely raise a family on. But, you're going to have to work and your schedule is somewhat dictated by the work."

Joe Latona, co-owner of Latona Trucking and Excavating, said employment at his business also has increased as a result of the Marcellus Shale industry. Of his 180 employees, about 85 work in Marcellus Shale areas, including one woman truck driver, he said. His daughter, Jamie, also drives a truck for his company.

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