As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall, and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about, though, is how infrequently we see women in drywall — and what an untapped resource they represent for this industry.
The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women, and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that), we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already doing a great job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades.
In this edition of “Women in Drywall,” we’ll introduce you to Amanda Lechner (pronounced LEK-ner), who’s doing great work in Pennsylvania while helping other drywallers connect all over the world, and all this while keeping everything in perspective and maintaining a good work-life balance.
Lechner is a pleasantly unassuming person to talk to, with an easygoing “everywoman” attitude and a relaxed disposition to match. She works at Lechner’s Drywall with her husband, who helped her get into the trades in the first place, about nine years ago.
“My husband and his guys were working on a house,” she said, “and they had some ceilings that needed to be textured, and so I was helping out … and then I just kept going.” Here, she laughs a recurring laugh that shows how much she clearly enjoys working in drywall on her own terms.
“At the beginning, I was working drywall all day, then from 3-10 p.m. at my other full-time job, but after two years of that, I decided to do only drywall. It’s nice — some days you’re hanging and some days you’re finishing, sometimes we even do demo and paint, so it’s not so monotonous.”
Besides enjoying the work, another recurring theme with Lechner is finding the right balance in her life. She stresses the importance of finding good help, and not biting off more than she can chew.
“It’s mainly just the two of us,” said Lechner. “On bigger jobs, we might have my husband’s brother and his group. If we’ve got bigger jobs they might come and help out, but mostly it’s just me and Eric … Sometimes it seems like we don’t have great luck taking on new people and teaching them. We’re too laid-back, I think. We try not to take on too much work at the same time, which can be tricky for scheduling. We try to leave ourselves time for other things.”
Despite the relaxed attitude, Lechner’s Drywall is doing well, Amanda says: “We’re a smaller business, but we’re not trying to be the biggest in the area. We like to be able to pick and choose, and not just take every job that comes at us — not taking those jobs where you‘re ripping your hair out at the end.”
An Honest Day’s Work
Lechner’s commitment to focusing on the right jobs has built her and her husband a faithful customer base and a good reputation. Asked where most of their business comes from, Lechner immediately replies “mainly referrals. We don’t really do a lot of advertising at all — we have our information on our vehicles, but that’s it. A lot of our customers are repeat customers or referrals from the repeat customers.”
This, she explains, is because the Lechners are known for doing an honest job the right way, which can be a bit of a rarity in the area.
“In this area, there’s a lot of fly-by-night operations, and we end up fixing a lot of those after they’re done,” said Lechner. “We’ve seen some ugly stuff — last year we went and looked at a job, three bedrooms, each in a different state of finishing, and none of them were done right, but the customer doesn’t know that. I’ve even seen some people ask for money up front for materials, and then take off and you never see them again … it just sucks when you see that people have been taken advantage of.”
Lechner’s reality couldn’t be more different than that, though. Her honesty and warmth ensure a different kind of relationship with her customers, ones that often last beyond the project itself.
“There are some clients that are now like friends, or we exchange Christmas cards each year or whatnot. It’s nice to hear from people or reconnect like that.”
Ups and Downs (Literally and Figuratively)
Lechner’s open, cheerful approach is a big factor in her success and her growth as craftswoman.
“A lot of people are set in their ways, but I always want to try something new,” she said. “If it’s more efficient, why not try it?"
Of course, not everything is so effortless, especially when it comes to being a woman in the trades, but Lechner brings her characteristic cheer to the difficulties as well. Asked about the challenges she faces, she assured me that she’s seen her share of sexism on the jobsite, as have many women in drywall, but “the real disadvantage is being 5 foot 2,” she laughs, explaining that her height can make it difficult to work on ceilings sometimes. She solves that with “various boxes and stuff to get me higher” and cheerfully asserts that “drywall lifts are a godsend!"
What advice does Lechner give to women looking to get into the trades? Well, that's simpler, no matter your height: "Go for it!"
"There is a big shortage of skilled laborers in almost every single line of trade work," Lechner says. "Also, you are typically paid a better starting wage than other fields of work like retail or office gigs. Which is one of the reasons I stuck with drywall.
"I personally find the work more fulfilling, being that you're not doing the same exact thing day-to-day and you're not stuck in the same building every day. If you're considering a trade, I'd recommend starting doing some research online to see if there's a local trade school. I know our local trade school has adult classes and they also help you find employment upon graduation. Some places even have paid apprenticeships where it's hands-on, on-the-job training."
Making Connections and Growing the Industry
Anyone can see that Lechner works hard but she stresses again and again that work isn’t everything. It’s equally about connecting with people, building relationships, and improving the community. Perhaps that civic mindset is part of what drives her as an administrator at Drywallers Worldwide, a Facebook group that brings craftspeople together from all over.
The group has “almost 18,000 members now,” she says. “It started in 2016, and we wanted a group with rules that people had to follow, not just name-calling. You know, there can be a lot of people that it’s their way or the highway. It’s nice being able to [run a group and] delete the comments that are just name-calling. But it’s also nice to see how things are done all over the world … Like in the U.K., the safety standards are a lot stricter than ours.”
The safety aspect is particularly noteworthy, because “with [us doing mostly] residential, it’s not such a big thing, but of course, if you get hurt, you’re not making money. And it’s interesting to see how they do things.”
The group isn’t just discussion, though that’s a big part of it, says Lechner. “There’s quite a few guys there who have teamed up, also. It’s neat to see people who have been talking there meet up and work together. It’s what we were hoping for when we started it, to get people together and help each other out.”
In a similar vein, asked to describe a favorite project, Lechner recounts a house they worked on for Habitat for Humanity, and another they did rebuilding a house that been destroyed by disaster. In cases like these, she finds immense satisfaction in seeing families’ eyes light up when presented with their new homes. And perhaps this, more than anything, is the secret to Lechner’s success: In everything Amanda says and does, she projects the aura of a good neighbor. She’s someone you’d like to know — someone you’d gladly help out, and who would help you in return.
Lechner’s is a business built on connection, honesty, hard work and a certain modesty that protects her against burnout. Surely there’s big things in store for her — as long as they don’t get in the way of finding the right balance!