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 Joyce Nieves, a relatively new drywaller who’s quickly making a name for herself and growing her business in Central Florida — all while raising a family and managing a successful social media group for women in the trades.
Women in Drywall: Meet Joyce
Thanks to an infectious enthusiasm and an unmistakably strong work ethic, it’s no wonder that Joyce Nieves is seeing success. And she’s accomplished this despite having only been in the business for five years and getting into it somewhat unexpectedly.
“I had a neighbor — a good friend of mine — and her husband was getting dropped off [at the jobsites] because none of the guys on the crew had a driver’s license, but I did, so I started dropping them off,” said Joyce. “And I got to learn from them, you know? And [my now-partner] James was working for them, and that’s how I met him! They were teaching me to do a patch, and then I found out what it paid to do a patch and, like, ‘Are you serious?! Why doesn’t everyone do this?’ And everything just kind of fell into place and it was perfect.”
Joyce’s love for her work shines through constantly: If asked a question about her job, she’ll go on to answer several more before they’re even posed. Her passion for the work lights her up, and she shares her excitement openly. This is one of the reasons for her success, she says.
“Word of mouth — no advertising whatsoever — since at least three years ago,” said Nieves. “At first, I paid to put a few ads on Facebook, but it just seemed like, after we started doing stuff for six or eight months, contractors were talking about us. Other contractors were calling. My partner has been doing this a lot longer, and he’s faster than I am. But they were calling me, and I told him, ‘You don’t stand out in anyone’s head,’ so he lets me be the face of the company!”
A Family Tradition
Joyce frequently brings her children to help out on the jobsite. That’s no surprise, though, since she helped her own father when she was young.
“When I was a kid, my dad was a drywall framer, finisher, electrician — you name it, he did it and he did it well," said Nieves. "But he didn’t do construction for a living; it was just on his own properties. I remember hammering two-by-fours together when I was young and calling them ‘airplanes,’ and we changed an F-150 from a six-speed automatic when I was about seven years old. We did all that!”
Joyce’s kids may not be building transmissions, but they love to work, she says, and she finds ways to encourage them.
“They don’t have to do that after school if they don’t want, but I’d like to work with them a little,” she said. “[The boys are] going to be ginormous. They’re both starting boxing here in January after school. Sometimes, I’ll take one of them with me now. I give him like a little job spotting nails or cleaning the floors. He loves to work; they both do. They can do more push-ups than most grown men. If they want to play video games or go on their phones, push-ups until you drop; whoever quits first doesn’t get it. But they love to do hard work!”
A Growing Business
Nieves is focused on doing high-quality work on residential properties and, in addition to word of mouth, she relies heavily on repeat customers.
“When I first started, I was doing some commercial jobs, but I don’t like being in the same place for so long,” Joyce said. “I like seeing things get finished … We used to do a lot of big custom homes in Citrus County. At first, it was really exciting to get those big contracts, but then being in the same place for two weeks or more … Now, for the last couple of years, we’ve been working for the same contractors and we’re doing the whole development … It takes about five days per house, depending on the size.”
Joyce’s reputation for good results, coupled with a sunny personality, makes it easy to want her back on the jobsite. Nieves has enough work now that she’s thinking about breaking off and starting her own business, which she plans to call “Mom’s Drywall Truck,” after the way her kids refer to her vehicle.
“I’m looking to launch in March,” she said. “That’s another reason I’m moving. James is staying more on the Citrus County side, and I’ll be more on the Marion County side with Mom’s Drywall … We’re not breaking off in any bad way. He’s proud of me for wanting to do it on my own. We’ll still help each other out.”
Despite the success of her current business partnership, she says that finding good workers is a real difficulty, and one she wants to address in a specific way with Mom’s Drywall.
“I’d like to have a few women in drywall working for me — or working with me,” Joyce said. “We work together. There’s no boss. We’re a team. At least a couple of other women working with me. And my daughter: She likes to do it with me. She plans to join the military, but if she wants to do it when she comes back, I’d love that!”
Part of that, of course, is about creating more pathways for women to get into the trades. The best way in, says Nieves, is to be confident, to have a good work ethic and to stay curious.
“There’s going to be a lot of pushing against the grain you’ll have to do,” she said. “It’s going to be uncomfortable … It takes a little while to get confident because, at first, it’s like, ‘How many other people want this job?’ Put all your effort into it and ask questions. Always ask questions — people will always get more annoyed by fixing mistakes than by answering questions. Listen to everyone and filter what works for you. Never say, 'I know,' even if you do, because they might tell you a detail you didn’t know.”
Curiosity and a Generous Spirit
Nieves’ trademark attitude — always asking questions, not being afraid to network and showing a generosity of spirit toward newcomers — has led her to create a successful Facebook group for women in the trades around the world.
“It began as a drywall group, but we changed it to just ‘Women of Trades’ — any woman in any trade,” Nieves said. “I haven’t been as active on it lately, I’ve had so much going on, but it’s taking off. That came from one of the guys’ groups, and some guy jumped down one of the girls’ throats and I said, ‘Why don’t we just have our own group? We can just help each other out,’ you know? It’s 153 members, just women. I only have 11 friends on there, and I’m one of the ones who made the group! Some of it is jobs, but a lot of it is just questions, a place where we can ask questions and not get any negativity.”
Kindness, professionalism and boundless enthusiasm for the job add up to a recipe for success in nearly any industry, and we can’t wait to see where it takes Nieves and Mom’s Drywall Truck.