Education Matters: Karen Johnston, working in the field of construction as a woman

FRESNO, California - Since 2007, there has been a steady decline in the number of women in the construction industry. And, the majority of those working in the field either have jobs in sales and office work.

You can't help but notice it, the construction work taking place at Palm and H street just west of downtown Fresno, the city of Fresno putting in new water pipes. The company doing the work, Floyd  Johnston Construction, is one of the biggest construction companies in the valley.

"We are a general engineering contractor, we've been in business since 1969."

Now vice-president, Karen Johnston runs this family business started by her late father Floyd Johnston…just watching her you can see she knows her way around this shop.

Although this is a 48 year old family business Johnston did not start out working in the construction industry…she says her father was traditional and had different plans for his daughters but she was always interested in this work.

"I would sneak down their  when my dad didn't know on weekends and go in there and play in the shop and turn grinders on and mess with stuff, yes I was always very interested," said V.P. Floyd Johnston Construction Karen Johnston.

After a string of management jobs, she says she was finally brought into the family business.

"I think at some point he saw that I was good at management and had a good brain and he thought that maybe he ought to change the way he thinks and he ask me to come to work for him," stated Johnston. 

She learned the business from the ground up, going out in the field, worked in purchasing, managing the fleet, running the yard and most important managing people.

"The most important thing about any company is the people you hire. I believe that everybody who works here represents this company," Johnston said. 

Running a construction company is only one side to this very talented woman. She is a continuous learner and loves making things.

"I love working with my hands, I can't stand being still. I have a very creative mind.  I always want to figure out how things work. I want to make things."

That creative mind and desire to see how things work has resulted in Johnston restoring old cars.

"I will spend hours on the internet researching different options, different things that I can do, do I want to go fuel ejected do I want to go carbureted," she said. 

She is also an artist and her passion; making things out of metal…one look around her foothill property and you see the result of her work.

"Of everything that I've learned to do there is nothing that has been more valuable and served me better than learning to weld being a fabricator, If you can weld you can do anything," she stated. 

A treehouse for her daughter, a tiny cabin all made out of steel. Johnston's success is not only as an artist but as woman in construction, career tech educators are reaching out to her. They are working to get more young women interested in the field.

"We have so many incredible women in this community who have opened and started and are working in manufacturing and construction very successful business people. We want our young ladies in our schools to know that possibility is there for them as well. Our Career Tech Charter is going to be a great opportunity for women, particular young ladies to get involved and start to understand about that pathway," said Jim Yovino with Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

Johnston faced her own barriers many years ago and believes schools should reach out to girls, show them what's available in the industry. Her advice to them is think outside the box.

"I would say to any young woman don't think inside the box don't let anyone fence you in let anyone decide for you or define for you what your limits are. If your curious and your interested and you see something ask go after it," stated Johnston. 

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