A female contractor encourages others to join a busy industry in need of workers.
By Jaclyn O’Connor Giop
The water well industry is changing. For some, that truth is difficult to stomach. Yet others are leaning into the adjustments being made to advance this line of work and aid in overall prosperity.
We all find ourselves looking for a labor force that has not been adequately represented in the past to lessen the ongoing skills shortage that our industry faces today. To reduce this scarcity of manpower, I encourage women to get more involved in the drilling industry.
Whether it be in the office or out in the field, female voices within this trade need to be heard. Currently, women represent only 9% of the construction workforce. Out in the field, that statistic is even simpler in contrast: for every 100 men on the jobsite, there is only one woman.
However, many of the women who find themselves working in construction operate with an immense drive and have a vision for a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Part of my value system is if you are dedicated and work hard, you will see significant progress.
My biggest career achievement to date is starting off in an entry-level position and working my way up to where I am now. And being a woman in a predominately male industry, I find it to be that much more gratifying to have made it to this point.
I found early on in my career that some males were hesitant when trying to communicate with me in this line of work. It wasn’t for many years that I finally proved myself and my abilities and became accepted as an equal.
I am one of few women who have obtained a Monitoring Well Constructor’s license in Montana and am also the first female licensed driller at my company, O’Keefe Drilling Co. in Butte, Montana.
When I first began attending the Montana Water Well Drillers Association convention 16 years ago, I would be the only female in the room. Today, I am happy to say there are a few more spectacular women in attendance at these events.
I remember being asked years ago by Bob Chamberlin, the vice president of O’Keefe Drilling, if I wanted to be part of the MWWDA woman’s auxiliary or go to the classes. Of course, I chose to attend the classes for the chance to learn something about this industry; learning has always been exciting to me!
For me, the industry itself, the people involved, and the history behind it all made it easy to fall in love. I truly believe that the same can happen with others if they give it a chance.
I have been fortunate enough to be a part of something that I think can help solve the lack of workforce in the construction industry through my service on the Montana Contractors Association Education Foundation Board of Directors.
We had a vision in 2018 to build a diverse, skilled construction workforce in the state by promoting and supporting careers in the trades through strategic partnerships and educational opportunities.
We launched a program in 2021 called Build Montana, which promotes careers in construction and allows students to receive access to training, funding, and job placement resources during semester programs. The program features a mixture of male and female attendants, which is exciting!
As you may know, though, one cannot go to a trade school to learn how to drill or set a pump because the knowledge and skills obtained for this field come from hands-on work.
One of my employees at O’Keefe Drilling, Scott McGaugh, showed off that work when he drilled a 690-foot water well with an audience of Build Montana students in May 2022 in Kalispell, Montana. Amid the construction equipment present onsite, the kids were able to watch Scott drill and set casing with a Foremost DR-24.
My plan is to incorporate a drill rig into future Build Montana programs to allow for more exposure into what we do. We are hosting programs in early 2023 in Billings, Kalispell, and Missoula and eventually farther across the state.
I am reaching out to water well contractors in the program’s areas to see if they are willing to give a few hours of their time to teach about their rig, the drilling process, and highlight the different aspects of our construction industry.
I have also been selected to serve on Montana Governor Greg Gianforte’s Housing Task Force to help tackle the housing crisis within our state. The organization has four subtasks we are focusing on—and one of them is construction.
We hope to bring to the governor’s attention the challenge that workforce development poses because it has created a major dilemma. According to the Montana Board of Water Well Contractors, there are 226 active drillers in Montana. Most are at drilling companies already scheduling domestic wells 12 to 18 months out, and as home construction takes place left and right, the demand for water wells just continues to grow.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montana’s population growth increased nearly 10% between 2010 and 2020, outpacing the state’s housing unit growth by 6%. This is not mentioning the cost of building a new home has soared with private residential construction costs skyrocketing to 18% nationally between March 2021 to March 2022, as stated by the Census Bureau.
It has been a challenge for our industry to keep up with this significant demand increase. Not only are our schedules overwhelming, but we are also faced with the difficulty of trying to find individuals who want to work.
I know I can speak for all water well contractors when I say that drilling a well is made up of hard labor and long hours. Trying to find reliable people who have a good work ethic has proven to be like finding a needle in a haystack.
There is no question that this trade needs more workers—males and females alike—to help lighten the load of the drilling task and the high demand we face.
Historically, women represent a demographic of people who have been underutilized. As water well drilling continues to grow and change in more complex ways, I believe women can influence this opportunity to pursue various positions within our industry.
The options are vast when it comes to what one can try. It is a people-focused enterprise, so if you are up for a challenge, jump in! You won’t regret it.
Jaclyn O’Connor Giop is the office manager and accountant for O’Keefe Drilling Co. in Butte, Montana. She has a Monitoring Well Constructor’s license and serves on the Montana Contractors Association Education Foundation Board of Directors. In 2022, Giop was the Montana Water Well Drillers Association president. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.