Twenty-one-year-old Kate O’Hearn has always tried “to walk my own path” and perhaps that is why she already holds a supervisory position in the construction industry.
Of course, she also acknowledges the considerable help, guidance, encouragement, and inspiration she has received along her career journey from family members, teachers, colleagues, and other women in the construction industry.
As a junior site supervisor for Burlington, Ont.-based GEN-PRO, a large-scale commercial renovator, she is responsible for operating job sites as safely and efficiently as possible, scheduling sub trades, working with project managers and clients and finishing projects on time and budget.
She was offered the position in the spring of 2019 even before graduating from Mohawk College’s Construction Engineering Technician-Building Renovation program.
“I knew from a young age that sitting at a desk was not the life for me and that I felt empowered and joy in building and creating,” says O’Hearn, on the initial start of her career path.
But that awareness became even more crystalized in high school where she studied woodworking, the one subject she wasn’t bored with.
“I excelled at wood shop because I found joy in it and only wished that class lasted two periods not just one. We (her classmates) were on our feet, learning about big machines that could turn ordinary pieces of wood into amazing creations.”
There were also several career introduction class trips to the college’s Stoney Creek Campus for Skilled Trades including one which featured a women-in-trades seminar.
“I was truly inspired by the guest speakers who gave us young girls the truth, the hardships and rewards about being a woman in the trades.”
Even before completing high school she had made the decision to enter the trades.
“My parents were very pleasantly surprised, but not too surprised as I was always building things as a child or trying to anyways. They were happy I was getting into trades and never doubted my ability to take on the industry.”
At that point she wasn’t sure exactly which sector of the industry she wanted to enter and that was the catalyst for conducting extensive research on Mohawk’s various programs. Eventually she chose Construction Engineering Technician-Building Renovation.
“It (the program) was too good to pass up.”
With a course content that encompasses entrepreneurship and business management studies, AutoCAD instruction, reading and drawing blueprints by hand, architectural history, and building theory, the program extends beyond just learning how to build and renovate homes, she points out.
“It provides students with the opportunity to explore the industry outside of just working on a site.”
As well, CET-BR is very much a “base learning program” which empowers graduates with the skills and knowledge to consider many different options.
“Most students come out of the program and start a carpentry apprenticeship right away, or they can go into management, or start a small business. I still have completing an apprenticeship in my sights, but the job I have now is more management and general construction.”
At the beginning of her course there were three other women in the class, but two dropped out during the two-month teachers’ strike, and the third chose a different career after finishing the program.
During her time at the college O’Hearn also matched her studies with a passion for humanitarian causes and volunteered in two college/Hamilton Housing-sponsored Habitat for Humanity projects in that city.
As well, she was a participant in a two-part college initiative to renovate a school in Jamaica. Measurements, plans, and other project details were scoped out by O’Hearn, a fellow CET-BR student, and a teacher in the fall of 2018. They had accompanied a group from the college’s Fennell campus who taught computer skills to the Jamaican pupils.
Using those plans, a large group of CET-BR students and a handful of teachers completed the renovation the following February.
In recognition of those volunteer initiatives, O’Hearn was one of several Mohawk students who received the college’s Celebration of Learning Award in 2019. The annual awards recognize students who maintain high academic performance while making significant commitment to the experiences of their peers, plus their community involvement.
“I now can see a future of combining my two loves of building and helping people who need it most to contribute to the world in an uplifting way.”
For now, though, she is focused on her job as junior site supervisor—a job which has a lot of pressure and responsibility.
“But there is no shortage of people within my company and others that are willing to lend a hand whether it be teaching me a new skill or giving me advice on how to deal with tough situations.”
Her success on the job is due to the management, estimating, plan reading and drawing, entrepreneurship and other skills she learned at Mohawk and the teachers who provided that training. Recalling her high school days when she attended the women-in-trades seminar, O’Hearn also says she continues to draw strength and inspiration from those female construction leaders who spoke about the truth, the hardships and rewards about being a woman in the trades.