“Come prepared, walk in with your chin up, and sit right down at the table.” Women in Construction Speak Out
March 4-10, 2018 is Women in Construction Week, building awareness of the significant and diverse contributions of women working in construction. We asked some Kraus-Anderson construction professionals for their insights into their work, and the profession.
Q: Why construction? What drew you to this field?
ALEXANDRA TITTERUD, ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER: Ever since I was a kid I loved watching buildings be put together, whether it was watching huge skyscrapers go up down town or sneaking into the nearby home developments. The process has always interested me.
ERIKA FLORES, PROJECT MANAGER: I initially started in civil engineering, which I didn’t find it as interesting as I thought it would be, so I transferred to the construction department Here I found a diverse field with constant change among various trades.
MOLLY JUTZ, ASSISTANT PROJECT MANAGER: I have always been interested in architecture and how things get built. I wanted to use math and science and help build those buildings.
Q: How has your career path changed since you’ve started? What position did you start in and where are you now?
HEATHER KOSSILA, BIM MANAGER: I started in controls engineering, where I did a lot of touch screen development and programming. After I earned my degree in Architecture, I worked for an A/E firm before taking a position with a large general contractor as a BIM (Building Information Modeling) manager. I’ve been in that role now for over 10 years.
ALEXANDRA TITTERUD: I started as a project engineer intern, then hired full time as a project engineer, I am now an assistant project manager. I am currently undergoing an employee development program in the Pre-con department – gaining more experience with putting budgets together from OST to WinEst.
CHRIS DOKKEN, PROJECT MANAGER 2: I actually started at KA in the Realty department. My path started as an accounts payable clerk which grew into managing KA’s timeshare inventory firm. In the late 90’s I started looking into construction management and began taking classes at Dunwoody and working on job sites.
RENAE ANDERSON, PROJECT MANAGER 1: I started out designing and building roads in 1981, and over the years with hard work and dedication landed in the project manager role.
Q: How does your discipline interface with the overall construction operation?
ALEXANDRA TITTERUD: My discipline gave me a vast understanding of the industry to better prepare me. I learned the most from my hands on experience as an intern with KA. It was eye opening to learn under a real-life project manager.
CHRIS DOKKEN: I came into construction from a management role and I believe that management is management is management. You can move a project forward by knowing who needs to be at the table to resolve the issues and how to make sure all the pertinent information is fully disseminated.
ERIKA FLORES: A project manager/estimator interfaces with all disciplines of construction from the client, architects, engineers, field, to the subcontractors, suppliers, facility managers, the city planner/inspectors, etc. Typically the project manager determines who needs to get involved.
JENNIFER PARENT, MARKETING PROPOSALS MANAGER: As a team member of the Marketing Proposal group, we oftentimes provide the first impression of Kraus-Anderson to a potential client. We produce brochures, qualifications, proposals, interviews, and often follow-up project support. Essentially we work closely with our teams in building the best story with experience, resumes, and a work plan that convinces a client to hire us to build their project.
Q: How has the industry changed since you’ve started in terms of technology, procedures, opportunity for women?
ALEXANDRA TITTERUD: I haven’t been in the industry long enough to see much change but I know that there have been many female pioneers who have paved the way for women in this industry.
ERIKA FLORES: My construction management graduating class of ’87 consisted of 3 women and 84 men. Over 20 years ago the industry wanted to speak to the “man” in charge and women were not commonly found in this field. But, as time went on I began to see more women not only stepping into construction roles but thriving in them.
JENNIFER PARENT: The industry has changed immensely, starting with technology. The programs and printers I used 17 years ago are now obsolete and replaced with faster and higher quality capabilities, and allow for transferring information and collaboration inside and outside Kraus-Anderson. With the growth of technology also came the technical resource job needs. As a female in the construction industry, I have not only seen the amount of women joining the industry increase, but the career path from project coordinators to assistant project managers and project managers increase, as well as the participation in the field increase. For me, that is the most rewarding piece of all of this is the empowerment and opportunities for women in the industry.
Q: How has KA helped you with your career development?
HEATHER KOSSILA: As far as general contractors, KA is very supportive with testing new equipment, software, and processes. Innovation is part of our strategic plan. This has allowed me to experiment with cutting edge technology used in the field, an experience that is essential in the BIM role.
CHRIS DOKKEN: KA’s senior management believed in my potential to grow into construction management and supported me branching out into a different field.
ERIKA FLORES: KA has a lot to offer women in construction in the industry. KA has KAU which has most training courses needed for certifications and to learn new concepts. KA also has hands on training for each position and is supportive in college courses for advancement.
Q: What are the highlights and challenges of your job?
HEATHER KOSSILA: The highlight of my job is exploring new ideas and developing exciting ways to solve problems. At the same time the BIM role is so broad, and software and equipment changes so fast, you can never know as much about any one area as you’d like. That’s the biggest challenge.
ERIKA FLORES: Some of my biggest challenges were also some of my biggest highlights. In college and when I first started working a lot people told me that I couldn’t do it or I would lose out on an opportunity because I was a woman. But, here I am over 20 years later proving all those people wrong. I stuck with what I loved and earned the respect of my superintendents and subcontractors by working hard and being tenacious.
JENNIFER PARENT: Hands down, the highlight is the people, aka family, at Kraus-Anderson. I love my job, but especially cherish the many friendships that have formed over the last 17 years. The biggest challenge is the constant change in the construction industry. Clients’ needs are continuously changing with trends in the market. The challenge is to stay ahead of the change and know our clients.
RENAE ANDERSON: Every project has its own set of challenges no matter how big or small it is. I was fortunate to work on the T3 Building, first modern mass timber building in the US. This being the first, we worked closely as a team with the designer/architect, developer, and the City of Minneapolis all learning together and understanding the fire rating of this unique building.
Q: Advice to women considering this discipline?
MOLLY JUTZ: If you have an interest or a passion for anything construction related, go for it. Find internships and learn everything you can. Stand your ground, be confident and speak up.
HEATHER KOSSILA: I believe many women lack confidence in their knowledge and skills. Lack of confidence does not mean lack of skill so… fake it till you make it. Come prepared, walk in with your chin up, and sit right down at the table! If you’re tenacious and like to solve problems, if you prefer continuous learning over mastery of one thing, if you want to be that person in the office with all the cool toys, then a BIM role in construction might be right for you.
JENNIFER PARENT: My advice is to fully immerse yourself in the challenges and rewards of the industry. Do not let the perceptions and prejudices of those around you about being a woman in construction or business limit or constrain your integrity, engagement, and abilities. Because women entering the construction industry is still in the infant stage, you have the ability to grow the industry into something great where women are commonplace just like men.