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West Michigan Construction Institute Jen Schottke poses for a photo in front of the WMCI hard hat wall

Get to know

Jen Schottke

President of the West Michigan Construction Institute

Can you tell us about how you got to where you are today?

Well it certainly wasn’t a linear pathway!

I always thought I would be a college graduate. My dad was a college professor at Michigan Tech and I always thought college would be my next step. But after a series of challenges with family and mental health, life was thrown upside down for me at 18 years old.

In 2001, I moved to Grand Rapids and started to work just to survive. After working briefly at a restaurant, I started to explore the cosmetology pathway. I had always liked the beauty industry so I ended up enrolling and getting my cosmetology license.

After working about five years in the beauty industry, I found myself gravitating towards handling the business and marketing side of the work rather than with clients each day. That led to traveling to salons and selling products; which was my entrance into the marketing & business world.

How did you first get into construction? 

In 2007, I received an offer from CD Barnes to work as their marketing director. It was a huge shift. I went from selling shampoo to selling buildings! 

And then the recession hit. Our company had to downsize significantly and I watched as many of my seasoned colleagues got laid off which meant I needed to take on many new and differing tasks. That turned out to be such a pivotal moment in my career because it opened the door to meeting tradespeople

Before, I felt like I didn’t quite deserve my role (I didn’t even have a marketing degree!) But then I started meeting other people in the West Michigan construction network that were leading businesses and running complex job sites and they didn’t have their degrees either. Whether they were the owners of the business or a laborer in the field, our paths had similarities. This is when a shift occurred for me and I really felt like I belonged in this industry. I believe that this fundamental feeling of belonging is what one needs to stay and thrive in their work.

Jen Schottke working as marketing director at CD Barnes

Jen working in her first construction role as Marketing Director at CD Barnes

Former ABC president Norm Brady stands with members of both WMCI and ABC West Michigan in front of the Institute's hard hat wall.

Former ABC West Michigan President Norm Brady (far left) with a mix of ABC and WMCI members at the WMCI Open House. 

As I think about who and what WMCI is, I am proud that at the core of what we do is helping open doors for people. It’s a gift. I honestly can’t think of anything more powerful to do in life than open doors for other people.

where did the idea for the west Michigan construction institute begin?

In 2014, I received a call from Norm Brady from the Associated Builders & Contractors, Western Michigan Chapter to see if I would join their team as their Membership and Marketing Director. After a year at ABC, we started to have more serious conversations about meeting the looming workforce cliff. 48% of the construction workforce is projected to retire in the next 10-15 years. That’s a BIG issue not just in West Michigan, but one that will affect how we build the future infrastructure of the entire country! Working at ABC, I had become extremely passionate about programs aimed at growing the workforce, and I started looking into what we could do to help our community reinvigorate it’s investment in the future of the skilled trades. 

Many years later when it was time to decide who would take on the leadership role at WMCI, I asked the WMCI board of directors to take a chance on me and for the opportunity to lead the launch of the school.

This is a repetitive part of my career; someone taking a chance on me. I am deeply grateful for the people that opened those doors for me along the way. 

One thing that’s unique about wmci is that the majority of the staff is female in a male dominated industry.

what are some of the things you’ve noticed with women’s roles in construction?

There’s certainly been growth in numbers. Women employees have grown from low single digits to 12% to 15% of the workforce. We’re seeing that growth reflected with our student body as well which is very encouraging to all.

I also think there is growing awareness of how women are different than men. We need leaders to make changes in internal culture to create welcoming spaces for women. Candidly, I struggled because there was no paid maternity leave policy when I had my son in 2011. That had a big impact on my decision to leave the industry for a short while. But now, we are seeing more and more West Michigan companies preparing and welcoming moms into the workforce. I see more women in the field and more women in leadership. 

What’s really great is that we’re seeing more male colleagues step up and advocate for female leadership as well. Companies understand the value that a diverse leadership team brings not just to company culture, but the efficiency, effectiveness and profitability of the company.  

Jen Schottke and ABC coworker working on a crane on a jobsite.

What is one piece of advice you would give to women entering the construction industry?

Wow, it is such a privilege and responsibility to be able to offer advice to others. I would first say that you belong here and keep going. You will begin to find your people over time. I’ve been fortunate to have been included in various communities of professional women and my peers are phenomenal. It is a gift to be surrounded by so many women in construction. There’s a really special thing about being a woman in construction right now; that trailblazing factor. 

Trailblazing is not easy and will come with hard days no matter the industry. But you get a wonderful community that you get to rely on. So welcome. You belong here. And never stop pushing, even when it gets hard.

Last question. What do you like to do for fun outside the office?

Having grown up in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, being outside is where I find my rest and renewal. I love hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, and snowboarding. 

Both of my children are athletes and watching them grow and excel in their sports is one of my greatest joys – you will find me at volleyball tournaments on weekends, and dive meets and baseball games on weeknights. And, I love to laugh! Stand-up and improv comedy shows are some of my favorite ways to spend a night out.

interested in how you can get involved?

3 ways YOU can help build the future of construction in West Michigan:

1. advocate

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is open doors for future construction professionals. Let them know about the opportunities available to launch a successful career in construction.

2. support

WMCI exists because of the generous supporter from those passionate about our mission. Your tax deductible donation helps create new programs, equipment, and tuition assistance

3. Visit

Hopefully the WMCI stories inspire action, but seeing is believing! You and your team, family, or organization are always welcome to visit the institute for a tour.

A Year in Review Looking back at WMCI’s craft trade training progress in 2023 and ahead to the plans for growth in 2024. “As I think about who and what WMCI is, I am proud