Lee Kelly-Chin combines architectural knowledge with site skills as Kenaidan project director

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    Ontario Construction Report special feature

    Introduced to the construction industry by her father, Lee Kelly-Chin quickly set aside ideas about joining the medical profession and instead, followed her father’s footsteps and studied architectural technology. Thirty years later she is a Kenaidan Contracting Ltd. project director.

    “I started in the industry working as an architectural technologist,” she said. “When I took time off to raise my family I did some drafting on my own from home.”

    Returning to the workforce, she became a school board’s project manager and was eventually lured to the other side of the table by a small Orillia contractor.

    Kelly-Chin says with a background in architecture she has an overall project perspective that has been helpful to her role. “As a project manager I don’t have to know the specifics of how to handle the tools specifically but I need to have a concrete understanding of what needs to be done and why. My architectural background has provided me with a good overall understanding of the building code and all the components of a building. My experience as an onsite project manager has provided me with an extensive knowledge and a solid foundation in construction practices, processes and procedure.”

    She says this broad perspective has been especially helpful on design-build and P3 projects where she must understand what both the consultants and the construction team require.

    Early in her career, women in the industry were an anomaly and she says she heard from people who thought a career in construction, and in particular on job sites, might not be appropriate. Over time, she says her reputation for fair treatment of trades and co-workers gained her respect and eliminated any gender issues.

    Today she says, though she may lack some of the camaraderie available to her male counterparts, she is welcome on site and comfortable with her position. Understanding that networking and peer support is important, she has sought connections with male and female colleagues throughout the industry.

    “I sit on the education committee with OGCA Ontario General Contractors Association). I sit on the Gold Seal Committee with CCA (Canadian Construction Association) and am a national reviewer for the Gold Seal exam,” she said.

    She spoke at the last OGCA symposium and tours various colleges with her Kenaidan colleagues, promoting construction career opportunities.

    The industry will need to change to support more women in the trades, she said. “I see companies like Kenaidan who already have programs and an openness in place. Other companies are starting to come on board with things like flex hours but there is still a lot to be done.”

    Part of her hope in speaking to young women considering career options is to plant the idea that construction is a viable career. She says women have to understand that donning work boots and a hard hat during the day does not change or define who they are. “Women have to understand they can still be themselves.”

    She says she has found her construction career to be extremely satisfying. “To work with a team and build something from nothing, to see a project rise out of the ground and know you have contributed to it is a rush.”

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