Third-year Construction Engineering Technology student Jessica Garrett
Even in 2019 the construction industry is dominated by men but that isn’t stopping Jessica Garrett from pursuing her dream of one day having a very rewarding career in the field.
The Niagara College third-year Construction Engineering Technology student was recently awarded the College’s first Women in Construction Faculty Award. Established through the generosity of Welland resident Jan Erion, the award is a $500 donation toward a student’s tuition, designated specifically for a female student in one of the College’s construction programs.
“As a female in the construction field, I feel very fortunate to have had a successful career in the construction industry,” said Erion. “This award has been established to encourage other women to persevere in overcoming any obstacles in order to succeed in this rewarding field.”
Garrett said she was “very surprised and honoured” to receive the award. “I have had to overcome many obstacles to get where I am today,” she said.
Passionate about the industry for as long as she can remember, Garrett pursued her interest in Grade 12 through a Specialist High Skills Major in construction where she helped build a home for Habitat for Humanity. Following high school, she enrolled in the college’s Construction Techniques program to explore opportunities in the field, and worked for a year before enrolling in her current program. Last summer, she began working for Associated Engineering, and has continued to work part-time as she completes her final year of college.
“I have always loved construction, learning how things were built and how they work,” she said, “I enjoy being able to use a large variety of skills such as math and writing and the different challenges the field presents.” Garrett said her mentors have mainly been the college faculty both during the Construction Techniques program as well as the Construction Engineering Technology program. “Their guidance in my studies and my passion for the field has helped me immensely. I simply love everything I do!”
Mountainview Homes president, Mark Basciano said he is thrilled to see someone like Garrett pursue her career. “Women currently make up a very small percent of the construction industry’s workforce, but in my opinion and in my experience throughout the industry, nowhere will you find a more committed, enthusiastic, smart, and ambitious group of professionals,” said Basciano.
“A push toward diversifying the workforce would be welcome and extremely helpful. The industry for some time now has been looking at inclusion and diversity as a positive opportunity,” said Basciano. “Having young women identify construction as their passion and making it their career should be, as with any other field, encouraged and embraced.”
Garrett has encountered many challenges however, as she pursued her career dreams. In the past, she encountered sexism due to her size and gender, while pursuing her interest in construction. She faced financial challenges, living on her own since the age of 18 and working two jobs while completing the Construction Techniques program to pay her tuition.
Sadly, she not only faced challenges on the job but in her personal life as well. Her greatest challenge was during her first year as a college student, when an abusive relationship left her with trauma and physical disabilities which required her to use a cane and, for months, a wheelchair. While, at times, she felt like giving up, she went through therapy, continued her education as well as working her part-time job. Now, that she has fully recovered Garrett hopes her story will inspire or help other women.
“Even with all of these obstacles, I managed to overcome them and succeed,” she said. “If just one woman going through something similar sees this, and it helps them, then it’s worth it.”
Faculty member Frank Roberts, in consultation with colleagues, selected Garrett for the award, noting that she had faced some very difficult times as a student, including physical disabilities.
“She never complained about the extra effort that was required to get to class. She was always prepared,” he said. “Despite all of the obstacles she faced, Jessica continued to improve in her course by maintaining positive study habits and dedication to succeed.”
Roberts noted that the Construction Engineering Technology program currently has 10-15% female enrolment – which he is hoping will increase in the years ahead. Similarly, female students comprise about 10% of the College’s School of Technology construction-based programs (Construction Engineering Technology, and Civil Engineering Technician). In the Carpentry Renovation Techniques program within NC’s School of Trades, that number lies at about 7%.
Chuck Mcshane, a 35-year veteran in the industry and the executive officer of the Niagara Home Builder’s Association, said, “The inclusion of so many hard working, knowledgeable and passionate women choosing a career in the industry has certainly changed the construction industry for the better.”
McShane said 30 years ago you would be hard pressed to find three or four women in the course of a year on a jobsite or holding a key position in construction companies. “Now we a fortunate enough to see women holding positions in the industry that we wouldn’t have thought would happen years ago, from presidents of building corporations to framers, electricians, engineers, designers to planners and many others.” Although there is much more work to be done in levelling the playing field and creating opportunities for women in construction, McShane believes industry has truly grasped what women bring to the table and are finally starting to receive the respect that they deserve.
“I applaud and thank Ms. Garrett and all of the women who have worked so hard to be a part of this great industry,” said McShane.