Dianne Koehle explains what it takes to get into construction.
First, please tell me what you do.
I’m a project coordinator. I work on jobsites maintaining submittals, drawings, correspondence, meeting minutes, material and equipment logs, certified payroll and other tasks as required. I support the project team, field employees, general contractors, owners, inspectors, vendors and suppliers.
How did you land there?
I have always been a Jill-of-all-trades, a DIY’er, and independently driven. I was working in the banking industry, and after 12 yrs I wanted a change. I thought to myself “what kind of job can I get that I won’t have to be in a cubicle or office all day, not have to wear dresses, suits, and heels all day, still work with mad math skills and get a decent paycheck?” Goodbye banking, hello construction management! It was very appealing to me to wear jeans, boots, and be surrounded by construction workers. I started off working as a project manager/sales rep for a flooring company and loved being out in the field, selling flooring, networking and watching the construction of a project from start to finish. After seven years and two flooring companies, I wanted to go bigger. I’ve been with a mechanical engineering company for six years now. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on large hospitals, colleges, power plants, laboratories, and it’s always bittersweet when a job is complete. Jobsites are always changing, and even though it’s sentimental when I demobilize the trailer on that last day, it’s a good feeling saying “Job well done, see you on the next one.”
What kinds of opportunities are there for women in the construction industry?
There is a need for women in the construction industry. There are so many opportunities for women. Apprentices through the various local unions or open shop training programs are available all over San Diego. The pay scales are higher than most other industries and the best part is that you are being trained at the same time that you can be working in the field. Some training is equivalent to college credits and accredited degrees, and after you complete an apprentice program, you don’t have a massive school loan to repay.
A good start is a search on the internet “San Diego Apprentice programs” and the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. All trades will come up in the results and you can chose from 119 occupations to research.
Search “San Diego Construction Schools” and not only apprenticeship opportunities in construction comes up, but also all the construction management, engineering, and architecture educational courses are listed.
Can you give me an idea of some of the unexpected challenges of this work?
It’s important to go with the flow. Things change on job sites. Trade stacking or changes in design can cause unexpected delays. Teamwork is a big part of the construction industry. Not only to carry your load, but also to watch out for your crew. Safety is the number one priority on any jobsite.
And how about some of the unexpected perks?
To say “I built it!” To feel the pride of accomplishment after working on a project. Benefits offered normally include medical care, dental care, vision plan, life insurance, and a 401(K) savings plan.
What would you say are some characteristics of a person cut out for construction work?
A willingness to continually learn new techniques about your trade is an important characteristic. Reliability is major since your company and crew are depending on you to be there on time, everyday. Without you, less work is completed and that could throw the schedule off. Endurance is key because it is physically demanding at times, and it’s a full day’s work in the field. Being a team player with a positive attitude keeps it a pleasant work environment. Awareness of your surroundings and being safety driven are desired characteristics, too.
Let’s say I think I’m a good fit for the industry. What would be a good first step in getting myself a job?
Once you’ve decided what trade you want to pursue, go out and get proper training, network with industry professionals and your trade teachers. Each trade has a different method of getting assigned to a field position. You can always search the internet for “San Diego Construction jobs” and see where the current openings are located and follow through the interview process for those jobs.
Do you have any additional advice for those interested in seeking construction work?
Do what you love and love what you do. Be proud of your skills and continually learn new ones. Put in an honest day’s work and watch out for your crew and all the other trades around you to keep the job sites safe. If you want to get into the construction industry, talk to your family, friends, and neighbors. You’re probably closer than you think to having a contact and someone to guide you through the steps to succeed in this field.