Business Alabama Features Mittie Cannon as a Leading Woman in Construction
Six-Pack of Fabricators
Six of Alabama’s leading women in construction
BY NEDRA BLOOM
As seen in March 2012 Article from Business Alabama
Master Crafts Trainer
Robins & Morton
“My passion is to help develop the craft professional,” says Mittie Cannon. In her role as director of workforce development for Robins & Morton in Birmingham, she can do just that.
Now she holds a doctorate in education, but two decades ago, when she first graduated from college, she opted for a job rather than further education. “I was tired of being broke so I chose a job,” Cannon says. As a biology and chemistry major, she was delighted with the job doing contract drug testing. “I didn’t realize it would land me on a job construction site.”
But a month after taking the job, she was off to Georgia. Arriving in high heels and hose at the jobsite trailer for the project’s ironworkers, she was sure she had made a mistake. Fifty pairs of eyes from some of the roughest-looking guys she had ever seen evaluated her as she made her way from one end of the double wide to the other.
“But I wasn’t known as a quitter,” she says, so she started the next day by checking in with the human resources manager who gave her great advice about not making snap judgments. “These guys may look like whatever,” he told her, “but they have a heart of gold and they’re very talented and very smart.”
She stuck it out and discovered that the workers were indeed wonderful people. Moreover, as she sat in her office, looking out over the jobsite, she became curious about what it would be like to work in the field rather than the office. She even took a welding class to build some skills.
But it took a number of years, and a marriage to her electrical engineer husband, before she was able to find out. He would take a month as a journeyman electrician and she could be his helper, if she would find a job for them at a shut down. She scanned the hot sheet and, on her third try, found an HR person who was willing to take on the husband-wife team.
Though she was recognized instantly as green — new boots, new tools, new tool belt—she was grudgingly accepted. On the third day, she was assigned to a different journeyman, not her husband, who was frustrated by her inexperience and by his feeling that women didn’t belong in the field. “But when he realized I was there for the right reasons, I wasn’t afraid of getting dirty, I wanted to get the job done safely and right for the clients,” he came around.
Despite the long hours, she enjoyed it and developed a real respect for the craft workers, she says.
She kept in touch with the job superintendent and was invited back to work on another project, but this time she worked in the office, learning to read drawings and more. Not long after, while working with a women’s support group at a Florida site, one of the executives asked her to come to Birmingham for an interview. And within a week, she was on the way to her first corporate training job, with the old BE&K. She joined Robins & Morton in 2011.
She enjoys arranging training programs for all craft workers, “but everybody knows I’m all about women in construction,” she says. For a number of years she even led a special construction camp to help young women learn the basics.
Whether the training is offered to men or women, it’s a benefit to the company, she says.
“Without great craft people, you have nothing,” Cannon says. “It’s the human element that’s so important, that often gets lost in corporate America. It’s our greatest asset. Strategies and best practices are nothing compared to great people.”