Starting a career in construction is a big choice for many young adults. Whether it was a trade school, university degree or just the school of life that brought us to the profession, it’s by no means an easy career to pursue. Nonetheless, a job in construction can be a rewarding one that opens up a world of opportunities and benefits–as it did for this week’s “Behind the Build” spotlight.
At a young age, Stephanie Weldon knew she wanted to do engineering. From there, that led her to pursue civil engineering and construction management. Seven years later, Stephanie hasn’t looked back. Now, she works as an assistant project manager for Cahill Contractors. While she has experienced her fair share of “fire drills,” she has turned her career choice into a passion for building. Below, we speak with Stephanie about her experiences in civil construction projects as well as her advice to others starting a career in the field.
What first got you into construction?
I studied civil engineering and didn’t really know if I wanted to go into design or construction. I just ended up in construction with the contacts I had at my school and liked it from there.
What made you think that your career should be in this area generally?
In high school, I knew I wanted to do engineering. I was more leaning towards math and science, so I ended up at an engineering school based on that. I started out in general engineering. I actually thought I wanted to be a biomedical engineer and then learned that I liked being outside, I liked being out in the field, so that led me to civil engineering.
What would you tell others just entering the industry?
I would say, don’t have a filter in construction. The more you talk to people, and the more you show your personality, the more outgoing you are, the more people you’ll meet. The more networking you’ll do, the more you’ll learn too. You’ll start talking to someone, and the conversation will lead somewhere, and you’ll pick up something that you’ll be able to use somewhere else.
I think the next generation needs to know that in construction you’re working with people who are from an older generation. They’re used to working really hard. It’s more of the hours and the quality of work that you put in. Accountability speaks for itself and putting in your time means a lot.
What do you love about construction?
I think construction has the best personalities.
My coworkers are hilarious, and they’ve got a ton of experience and good stories and lots of jokes. I also think that construction is cool because you can physically see what you build at the end of it. The building is there, the project is right in front of your face when you’re done, so there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.
The fact that everyone else is really into it makes me into it. There’s a lot of ownership. I have a lot of responsibility, so that’s big for me. It helps me feel like I’m important and I need to be there. And just the love of it, I guess. I really love what I do.
Is there a particular project that you’re most proud of?
I was a superintendent on a wastewater treatment plant in Pinole. That was the job that I was a superintendent for the first time on, and I was running field crews for pretty heavy mechanical equipment and piping. It was heavy duty stuff that required a lot of planning. Some pretty intense shutdowns, and a very high-pressure environment. That being said, it was probably the most rewarding work that I’ve done.
What drives you crazy about working?
The fire drills. In construction, there are so many fire drills, and everyone is dramatic.
You get calls every single day that makes it seem like it’s the end of the world, and people are freaking out. But, it’s not usually that big of a deal.
At the beginning of my career, I’d freak out too, which was very stressful. But as I’ve gotten more experience, I kind of joke with my co-workers that I’m a psychiatrist now. When I get these calls with these fire drills, now I’m like, “Calm down. It’s okay. We’ll get through this. It’s going to be alright.”
How did you firmly decide you definitely wanted to pursue construction?
I guess the difference between design and construction is that construction is more of a people business, and design you’re kind of at your desk, or at your computer designing things. You’re not really interacting on a daily basis with the numerous amounts of people, so that’s what appealed to me. I’m a very social person, and I love interacting with a lot of people.
Was there anything that surprised you, when you thought of construction and you actually entered it?
I guess the biggest thing is when you look at a construction project, or before you start a construction project, it seems like the most difficult thing. You’re like, “Oh my God, how is this ever going to get built?” It seems so overwhelming, but once you start getting into it, you kind of, piece by piece … You’re like, “This is actually not as hard as I thought it would be.”
It’s crazy. I did a water treatment plant in San Bruno, and at the end of the job, I remember there was one week where we got to work, and we’re like, “Oh my God, this project is done. This is crazy.” It was just like going so fast, and one day we were just like, “It’s built. This is crazy.”
What’s your family think about you in construction?
My oldest sister is a lawyer, and my middle sister has a Ph.D. in toxicology, so I don’t think anyone thought I was going to get into construction. My dad owned a landscaping company when we were younger, so construction was always in my family but I think with having three daughters, my dad never thought any of us would get into the field. Being in construction makes you really efficient and able to get things done fast, which my dad really appreciates.
My mom, I think, is proud of me, just the fact that I’m one of maybe two or three other women that are usually on these huge jobs.
I think she is proud that it takes a strong personality for a woman to be in construction. My mom is a really strong woman and I think it means a lot to her that she raised me to be strong too.