Interview Tatiana Ahlborn

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Interview Tatiana Ahlborn

Published by Edith Yanez in Interview · 11 October 2021
Interview Tatiana Ahlborn
We had the opportunity to interview Tatiana Ahlborn, Project Executive at Absolute Builders and President of NAWIC DC (National Association of Women in Construction). Absolute Builders is a leading construction company and winner of multiple construction excellence awards.

Edith Yanez:
Hi Tatiana, thank you for your time and for your support of Latinas in Construction.
Let us start with the following question:
What is, in your opinion, the biggest obstacle for women in construction?

Tatiana Ahlborn: I think it's fear. Yes, I would say that it’s fear, the fear that women feel, either to do something different or to want to do something. It’s a fact that we have the ability to do things, and we do them. It may be that there is a lack of training, but I believe that learning is something that women can do faster than men. We have the facility to learn quickly, but I honestly believe that fear is what stops us and impedes us do things.  It’s the fear of getting into a new industry, such as construction, or starting a new business or changing jobs to have a better position. But it’s fear, fear that something may go wrong. Fear of failure. But it is also fear of anything new, fear of success, of shining.

Edith Yanez: How is that women are scared of success?

Tatiana Ahlborn: Yes, that's what happens, it's hard to believe! We, women know that we have the capabilities, but we don’t give our best because of the fear of being too visible, probably because we think that this will generate more responsibility, more work. It’s both, fear of failure and fear of success, we prefer to stay in the middle, a little invisible.

Edith Yanez: Is it fear of not being able to oversee success?

Tatiana Ahlborn: It’s clear to me, that there is a fear of success, because what happens when things go well for you, that means more responsibility and you will have to sacrifice other things and generally, what women must sacrifice are the personal things, the family. So, it’s fear of not being able to balance family and work when you are successful.

Edith Yanez: What would you recommend to a woman who is trying to break through in construction?

Tatiana Ahlborn: The first thing I would tell her is, take the risk and do it. After that I think it would be training. Getting trained is really important. Right now, there are many companies that practically pay you to get trained. So, learn, learn, learn, as much as possible. The jump into construction isn’t the most difficult. There are opportunities and people aren’t taking them, because they are afraid or maybe they don’t know about them. There are thousands of opportunities for apprentices. There are companies that practically pay you the entire apprenticeship course, so that you can learn the trade. If you are learning, construction is one of the best industries to work for, they pay better, and I think that is something that isn’t being perceived. Now there are opportunities for women to enter construction, it’s a good time no for women who are looking for opportunities to learn, not only in different trades, but also in offices as a project manager.

Edith Yanez: What do you think would be the impact of President Biden's infrastructure plan on the Hispanic community working in construction?

Tatiana Ahlborn: I would tell you that it could generate benefits as long as there is some help with the immigration issue, because if we see it at this moment in construction, the Hispanic community has a great disadvantage due to the immigration issue, but if there is help on that area is going to benefit the community a lot. As things are now, the Hispanics’ benefit will be very little, because the infrastructure plan will benefit the Unions and there are not so many Hispanics there. I don't know how many Hispanics belong to the Unions, so maybe that's a point to look at, what percentage of people it would actually help.

Note: According to the 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics 9.3% of Hispanics are in the Unions.

Edith Yanez: But you say then that the infrastructure plan would have to go along with immigration reform to benefit the Hispanic community. What I know is that at this minute there are about one million of open construction positions. I read it in the news. If the infrastructure plan is approved, then that number of open positions is going to multiply by who knows how many more.

Tatiana Ahlborn: Imagine! It’s going to take a lot of people in the industry. The issue of construction visas is quite limited, so the only way this will help us is with an immigration reform.

Edith Yanez: What should Hispanic entrepreneurs do to prepare for this infrastructure plan?

Tatiana Ahlborn: Our companies aren’t always prepared to outsource to the government. The private company, private projects have a different system than the Government. Well, I think there are two things; one is training and the second; is that the company is really prepared to work with the Government. When we talk about training, the Hispanic companies may get trained with some organizations and industry associations. But the company is not prepared, is not able to make a certified payroll, or doesn’t have the funds to work for the Government, because it takes time to get paid by the Government and the company must continue operating until then. So, I would say the Hispanic company is not prepared financially, they don't have the tools, or they don't know how to handle the tools needed to work at the federal level. At a commercial level, that is, at a private level, it is easier because there is not so much requirement.

Edith Yanez: How do you see the future of construction? Is Artificial Intelligence (robots) something we should worry about, or should we see it as business opportunities?

Tatiana Ahlborn: Even though construction has incorporated quite a bit of technology, I don't think we're going to get to the point of using robots. I don't think there is a substitute for skilled labor that can do all the work, which can do all the design, or that can help minimize errors. Maybe things could be made easier because there is, for example, prefabrication of certain things.

Edith Yanez: Don't you think that technology can advance to the point of replacing a certain workforce? To be more precise, that is already happening in some areas, with the robots that are now being used to lay bricks.

Tatiana Ahlborn: There is still a long way to go. Who knows; 5 or 10 years? I do not know. Although I believe that due to the crisis that we are going through right now, with the shortage of workers, there are many companies that are investing a lot. We know that in 5 years we are going to see a shortage of construction workers, in fact, we are already seeing it and that was known before the Covid.

Edith Yanez: Tatiana, I thank you for such valuable information.
To our readers, we will soon have more interviews with construction specialists. Stay tuned!

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