On the job, Julia Zahreddine is just another professional working in the construction industry.
Off site, however, she still gets surprised looks from those outside the sector when they discover she’s working in what they’d assumed as an all-male enclave.
“I think some people are surprised but not if they work in construction,” says Zahreddine, 25, a site supervisor at Bridgecon Construction. “I think some people just assume when I say I work in construction that I’m an administrative assistant or something.”
It’s not necessarily the career path she was thinking of when pursuing a degree in environmental studies at York University which led to a joint Urban Sustainability program with Seneca College and a diploma in Civil Engineering Technology.
“There was a scholarship program and I applied and was accepted and it led to two internships as a site supervisor,” she says. “I was the first female to get the scholarship and I went in not really knowing anything, other than what we study in civil engineering technologies. I spent the summer at two heavy construction sites and learned about the industry and got some experience.”
It led to her landing a job straight out of school in 2018 — a rarity in itself in this day and age — and she hasn’t looked back.
Along the way she has upgraded her skills taking safety courses and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) training.
The industry is full of potential, she says, looking forward to gaining the experience which will allow her to rise through the ranks into more senior management positions.
It’s also comforting to know that her skills will always be in demand since construction is a fairly stable and consistent industry.
As a site supervisor her key focus is on safety and ensuring the site and the crews are all working in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Then, of course, there’s a lot of paperwork and working with other stakeholders and the owner.
“We just want to get the project completed according to what the owner wants,” she says. “But of course there are challenges every day.”
The key skill, however, is communications, working to ensure the crews understand their tasks and working with the owner to resolve those day-to-day issues and keep the job humming along on track.
As for the misconception that women on a construction site will face a lot of gender bias, she doesn’t believe it’s a factor.
“I’ve had push back but it was more likely because of my young age or my experience,” she says. “You’re working with some very experienced people.”
They’re more likely to push back because long-time construction workers have their own way of doing things sometimes but she’s never felt it was a gender bias.
“I think this is a great sector for women to work in,” she says. “It’s stable and the pay is good. It’s hard to get in and going the scholarship route is the way to do it if you don’t have someone in your family or who you know working in construction because it can be hard to get into.”
Not only is the work steady and rewarding, it’s also gratifying in other ways, she adds.
“You drive by and look at the skyline and you know you help create the structure that is in that space and you’re putting your mark on the city,” she says. “It’s very cool.”