The Eleven Percent: Meet Lydia Crowder, Drywall Contractor
Lydia Crowder has no regrets about choosing drywall over college. Here, @DrywallShorty discusses social media, the tradesworker shortage and more.
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This FH series introduces readers to a few of the women who make up 11 percent of the construction workforce in the U.S., spotlighting stories of their careers in the field. Know someone we should feature? Email us here.
After one semester of college in her hometown of Bozeman, Montana, Lydia Crowder realized higher education wasn’t a good fit for her. Fortunately her dad, a veteran drywall pro, asked if she wanted to give that a shot. “I was 18 when I started working for him, and I just fell in love with it,” says Crowder.
Her father’s employees also encouraged and helped train her. Now, twenty years later, she’s running her own company and still loving the freedom, variety and physical sense of accomplishment it brings.
“Every house you walk into has its own challenges, so you’re always trying to troubleshoot and find a solution to get the best end product,” she says. “Then at the end of the day, I see everything I accomplished with my hands and think, ‘I killed that. I did an amazing job and everybody’s happy.’ ”
A few years ago she started her Instagram account @DrywallShorty, a handle that’s a nod to her height (she’s 5 foot 1). There, she reveals tricks of the trade to her more than 200,000 followers and anyone else who wants to learn
We asked Crowder for her thoughts on the drywall industry and her role within it.
Q: How have you adapted to being a woman in a male-dominated trade?
Courtesy Lydia Crowder
A: On jobsites, if the builders don’t know us, they often make comments to my husband like, “Oh, you brought your helper.” Or they think it’s funny when I get up on stilts, or that I’m going to fall off them. I deal with that by building rapport.
Early on, I’ll ask the builder about timelines and other aspects of the job, which are important for us to know so we can work effectively and efficiently. That also shows them that I’m informed. Usually the builder will then start coming to me with questions, because they know that I know what’s going on and that I have good attention to detail.
Having a conversation goes a long way when it comes to construction, because so many people just walk on and have no idea what the end goal is.
Q: Tell us about any memorable projects you’ve been on lately.
A: We were working on a really big house when the pandemic started, and because of the timing we were wondering if they were going to pull the plug on it. But they didn’t, and it ended up being a really fun and challenging house. I think it had 146 corner beads, where a normal house has 40 to 50.
I like big showpiece houses, with high-end, smooth-wall, smooth-lid wrapped everything, because you get to show off and really take the time on them.
In general, the pandemic has boosted business for us, because everybody started moving to Bozeman once they could work remotely. Our workload has increased immensely. On the other hand, it’s been tricky getting certain products because of shortages, and we’ve seen price increases of 20 to 30 percent.
Q: What sorts of challenges do you see coming down the construction-industry pipeline?
A: Forty percent of the workforce is going to be retiring in the next 15 years, so we’re going to have a major shortage of qualified tradespeople. It’s up to us to encourage people to enter the trades, train them well and then educate them on how to build a business of their own, because that’s the hardest part.
We need to realize it doesn’t hurt us to have more competition. Instead, we need to be thinking about the big picture, and how to help the industry sustain itself with a high level of well-trained construction workers. To do that we need to be more inclusive, sharing tips and tricks, instead of thinking somebody is going to come steal our work from us.
Q: How has social media affected construction?
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A: If you were to walk onto a construction site and say, “Hey guys, can you teach me this?” they’re going to be like, “Get out of here. It’s none of your business.” But with social media, anyone can pick up a phone, watch a video and learn how to do something from a skilled tradesperson.
It’s fun to break something down and show people how to do it. It gets people encouraged to join the trades, and lifts the veil on what it’s like to be blue collar, to be a business owner, and to do drywall.
Q: Any advice for young women looking to get into this field?
A: Number one, take yourself seriously, because if you don’t then other people won’t. Come to the job willing to learn, and do the best that you can.
Also remember that in construction, everybody has to work their way up, and it takes a long time to learn the skills. Be a sponge, and think of it as a career, not just as something to make a little extra money here or there. You can really succeed at it, because you’ll be filling a void.
But I’d like to encourage everyone to look into a trades career. It’s not dirty or yucky, and it’s not all hard labor on site. It’s extremely satisfying, and the sky’s the limit. It gives you the opportunity to be a small business owner, to be your own boss, and even grow a company to large scale. I wish people would understand that more.
Q: What are your pro-specific tools?
A: I’m a pan and knife user, so I always have a couple of knives with me. I like Level5, because they’re always super straight, no nicks or anything bad in the blade, and the handle is squishy.
Also, I’m always on stilts, because I’m short and otherwise can’t reach anything. Dura-Stilts are my favorite. I’ve used them my whole career. For automatic tools, I use a loading pump. Northstar Tool brand is amazing. They’re the Louis Vuitton of taping tools, so they’re very hard to get and usually back-ordered.
For sanding tools, PlaneX 2 is always good and keeps the dust down, and Trim-Tex makes a lot of nice drywall sanding materials, too. Finally, I don’t know if mud would be considered a tool, but you can’t do anything without it. I’ve always used USG, with their All-Purpose for taping and Plus 3 for all of our coat work. That’s my go-to brand.
Lydia Crowder Bio
Women in Trade/Courtesy Lydia Crowder
Lydia Crowder, aka Drywall Shorty, is a second generation drywall finisher with more than 20 years of experience. She and her husband own Trinity Drywall in Bozeman, Montana, and finish more than 500,000 sq. ft. of drywall a year.
Crowder started sharing her tips and tricks online more than three years ago and currently has more than one million followers on her social media accounts. She contributes to Buildshownetwork.com, has taught an M.T. Copeland class on drywall finishing and made the cover of Women In Trade magazine.
Writer Karuna Eberl Bio
Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to FamilyHandyman.com. She spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. Eberl has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary The Guerrero Project.