Unlike many youth who find it difficult to choose careers, the recipient of this year’s Toronto Construction Association’s Sean P. McKenna Young Construction Leaders’ Award knew what she wanted to do at a very young age.
Now an EllisDon project manager, Symone Parera says her interest in design and construction began as a Grade 7 student helping her classmates in a Pickering, Ont. school design and build a miniature bridge using toothpicks and marshmallows as the building blocks.
Then, in high school, she designed a miniature bedframe and side table using AutoCAD, which was then fabricated by a 3D printer. This was in 2004 when the use of 3D printers was not as widespread as it is now and certainly not in a school setting, she says. Later she represented Durham Region in the Skills Ontario Competition’s AutoCAD contest.
“I was hooked on a career in design,” says Parera, in reflecting on those elementary and high school experiences.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled in Ryerson’s (now Toronto Metropolitan University) architectural science program with the goal of becoming an architect.
“But I came to realize that I would rather be on a site,” says Parera on her decision to choose the program’s project management division.
However, she worked for an architectural firm during her summer vacations and for a year following her graduation. That experience provided a “valuable perspective” on the design side of the industry.
In 2014 she joined EllisDon and has managed a number of projects such as Mirvish Village, the Fairview Malls Sears Redevelopment, the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex, and Centennial College’s Ashtonbee Campus Renewal, which achieved an approximately 90 per cent waste diversion rate.
“Centennial didn’t want to formally seek LEED certification, but it did want to adhere to the same policies and practices,” says Parera, a LEED accredited professional, who is responsible for teaching her team members how to monitor and control the LEED credits.
“I was nominated by Andrew Anderson (EllisDon senior vice-president/Toronto area manager),” says Parera on her selection as the Sean P. McKenna Award winner.
The annual award is given to young construction leaders who go above and beyond their regular work duties and make significant contributions to the industry, both in terms of their professional and volunteer efforts.
Recipients must be under 40 years of age and meet application criteria which includes a commitment to improving the construction industry, having the respect of their industry peers and adhering to ethical conduct and professionalism.
And the award criteria also factors volunteer and community work, which Parera is certainly involved and believes in.
Along with another colleague, she was EllisDon’s liaison for the Build A Dream initiative which is designed to encourage female high school students to consider skilled trades careers. In that role she helped extend what had been a primarily Windsor, Ont.-focused program across the country.
As well she is an Urban Land Institute volunteer classroom facilitator who, along with other volunteers, works with high school students and challenges them to think more critically about urban planning issues.
Other volunteer activities include serving as an Architectural Construction Engineering (ACE) mentor with the ACE Mentor GTA chapter. This is an afterschool program designed to attract high school students into pursuing careers in the architecture, construction and engineering industry, including skilled trades. Just launched in the Toronto area last fall, the 16-week-long after school program is held at various locations in the city. The students are currently designing a community centre.
“Certainly there has been times when I asked myself, ‘why did you get into this’?” says Parera when asked how she finds the time and energy to take on those volunteer roles in addition to being a project manager.
But then she recalls the first time she spoke to the ACE students.
“When I first asked them what they knew about architecture, construction and engineering no one put up their hands. But later they became more engaged. It’s actually exciting to see the students become involved.”
Parera is also an EllisDon employee engagement committee member. The committee analyzes the results of an employee engagement survey conducted by an independent third party and then makes recommendations to senior management based on the answers employees have provided.