Happy Women in Construction Week! For women who’ve chosen to make their living in construction, this week is an opportunity to celebrate their achievements and commitment to an industry that simply cannot do without them.
For Shannon Lee Tai Fuy, the career wheels started turning during a family trip to Disney World. When a roller-coaster broke down, her first thought was, “wouldn’t it be really cool if I could fix that?”
The moment made a lasting impression on the high school student, who went on to pursue a civil engineering degree. During a co-op placement at the University of Western Ontario, she had an opportunity to work with a contractor and find out what construction is all about.
“I didn’t know it would be so much fun. Learning new skills, and seeing a project built from the ground up, was very rewarding.”
Through a friend, Lee Tai Fuy learned about an opportunity at Looby Construction. She interviewed, got the job, and started with the company within days after finishing university. She’s been with Looby Construction for seven years, first as a project co-ordinator, then assistant project manager and is now a project manager.
Of the more than 1.4 million Canadians who work in construction, roughly four per cent are women. That figure may be too small for women to develop the kind of network needed to spread the word about good paying jobs that are in high demand within the industry.
For example, Carol Anne DeNeve, the HR manager at McLean Taylor Construction Limited and Stone Town Construction Limited in St. Marys, is hiring for one of those positions right now. She’s interviewing for an estimator co-ordinator, a great opportunity for a recent graduate from an engineering program. However, of the 48 applicants so far, none are women.
“There’s still a lingering misconception that construction is primarily about physical strength,” said DeNeve. “The reality is that the industry offers a wide range of career options that have nothing to do with physical strength. From project managers to estimators and supervisors, these are positions that the industry is working hard to fill, that are ideal for women.”
Rebecca Kragnes, director of Indigenous relations and community engagement at Bird Construction, knows firsthand how role models can change lives. She grew up on a trapline, near Fort McMurray, Alta. where there was no power or running water. Her mom, at the age of 32, returned to school for power engineering.
“Watching her be successful was a real inspiration. Representation matters more than people think,” says Kragnes, who was also influenced by a few female journeypersons along the way.
“It’s good for female apprentices to see women in leadership roles. It means so much to have equity participation in construction. The more women and equity priority groups there are at all levels within the industry, the more normal the participation of those groups will be in the skilled trades.”
Kragnes is a Red Seal journeyperson electrician, chair of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and a board member at Women Building Futures.
“Certification is one step,” added Kragnes. “Where women and priority equity groups go from there is up to them. It’s important for them to know about all of the career possibilities. There are so many pathways to success in construction.”
Kragnes, DeNeve and Lee Tai Fuy have all found fulfilling careers at member companies of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA). Through industry partnerships, PCA is committed to promoting construction as a first career choice for women.
Shifting demographics have swung the door wide open in construction. Dropping birth rates, coupled with the retirement of more than 250,000 construction workers by 2029, are contributing to an unprecedented labour shortage.
For underrepresented groups, including women, that translates into opportunity like never before across the entire construction industry. Women who are eager to find meaningful work and the chance to advance, can draw their inspiration from women who are showing there are many ways to succeed in construction.
Danna O’Brien is the principal at O’Brien Communications and wrote this op-ed on behalf of the PCA. Send Industry Perspectives Op-Ed comments and columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.