Alyssa Flavin, a Project Manager for De Jager Construction, is a very professional and motivated individual who originally did not see herself in the construction industry. She supports getting more women involved in construction careers and brings a new outlook to the Women Who Build West Michigan blog series. Enjoy!
How did you find your way to the construction industry?
I went to a small liberal arts college [called the University of Dallas] after high school, and construction was not in the realm of possibilities at that point. Like many I stumbled into the industry and got a job as a customer service representative for an HVAC and plumbing company. I enjoyed my job and was promoted to sales coordinator. When my husband and I moved to Michigan I took a similar role with with a roofing company, staying in the industry.
What was that like moving and sticking with construction?
It was great. I was one of the first hires at the roofing company, so I was able to really grow with them. I did production coordination and then moved into production management. I got to experience doing some larger projects which made me realize how much I enjoyed the construction industry, working with people and managing a team. I was able to see a project through from budget and estimation all the way through to completion. It was a great experience and I enjoyed delivering results to clients. I was then able to move on as a project manager with De Jager.
For those that don’t know, what does a project manager do?
It's having a bird's eye view of the project and making sure everything runs on time and stays on budget. What I love about my job is that every day looks different. I enjoy problem solving and not having a monotonous work schedule.
How long do projects usually take to complete?
At De Jager we primarily do retail construction, and we have different types of projects from a remodel that may take three weeks, to a full demo and building a brand-new store can take 10 to 12 weeks.
Is there anything that surprised you in a positive way about working in the industry?
I think it’s the people aspect I like the most. We do work nationally and it’s very cool for me to meet and work with people from all over the United States. The ability to work through challenges with people you may not know is really cool to me.
What are some things someone should be prepared for entering the construction industry?
The unknown. There is so much unknown in the industry, so if you want a more structured, routine job then this industry may not be for you. I personally see that as a positive since I want to think on my feet every day. I like the ability to really dig into problems and find solutions.
Where do you see your career going? What are some goals you have personally within the industry?
Right now, I enjoy being a project manager and I want to see where that takes me. Project management gives you so many opportunities for growth, especially where I am now. Ultimately my goal is, as a woman in the industry, to build relationships with other women getting into the industry and become a mentor. There are several women who I’ve continued to connect with; It’s a unique position to be in since the industry is so male-dominated. I want to be able to maintain those relationships and be open about our unique perspectives. There's a lot of room for growth within the industry and I want to be that mentor to younger women, it is something I am very passionate about.
What are some things you would tell someone getting into the industry about the construction career path?
Ultimately, every career path is going to have its own challenges, it’s okay to realize that this is a super male-dominated field --for now. I felt like I came in and had to prove myself and know everything right off the go. After a while I realized I could slow down and rely on mentors that were willing to help. I took a step back and started asking a lot of questions and respecting the industry, which helped a lot. I realized the best way to do my job was to understand others and operate with respect, and in doing so you can start to make some changes personally.
What are some things you enjoy about being a woman in a male dominated field?
One thing I’ve always loved is that feeling of being a trailblazer. When you’re the only woman in a room with a group of men and you have their respect its cool to take a step back and think, I’m a pioneer here. If you can take that thought and see it as a steppingstone instead of a hurdle you can be successful in any role.
You mentioned before we met that you have been in the industry for seven years now, have you seen any shifts in the industry?
Yes absolutely, I think the perception and function of the industry is changing. It’s dependent on the individual but I have seen industry professionals who weren’t on board with new ideas become more open to change. The ability to work smarter not harder has been a huge shift in the industry. Social media has also played a huge role in shifting the industry. Now you can see “a day in the life of woman on the jobsite” or women showing their awesome work via social media, promoting their work.
What is a skill that is beneficial to being successful in construction that may surprise people?
Being detail-oriented is a huge one. Being able to problem solve is huge as well. If someone can dive into a problem and solve it, they can easily become successful in this industry. Lastly, I would say asking questions is crucial because you want to be able to seek help and be open-minded. It’s not a hard skill but being willing to learn and ask questions will do wonders for your career. That is something that has helped me. I am always willing to ask questions and learn.
Let's say you are someone who doesn’t quite know what they want to do quite yet after school, or isn’t happy in their current role, would you suggest construction?
Absolutely. I would recommend it and I would say the best part about construction is there are so many options to explore. I had no idea of all the different opportunities that were available. I had the outdated perception that everything is done with a hammer and nail and there was no professional development. That couldn’t be further from the truth now. I had no idea what a project manager, or a superintendent did. So, dig into the industry a bit more and look at what a career might look like for you. What are you passionate about? What do you like? What skills do you have? That’s why construction is so great- there are roles for all skills. Lastly, I think the industry is shifting, a lot of the older workers are retiring, job sites are safer, technology is more prevalent, and the culture is night and day different even from when I started. This industry is a gold mine and could be for a lot of people.
Is there any one thing you want to get across to end our conversation?
There is plenty of room for all within the construction industry. I would encourage other women to support each other because we must be part of the solution of getting more females in the construction industry. Being open, honest, and involving men in those conversations can also make for a much more understanding and inclusive industry. Understanding each other and working together is what is going to shift the industry and improve the percentage of women in the construction workforce.