Chandos is an award-winning, 100% employee-owned general contractor that is leading change in the Canadian construction industry. We recently got the opportunity to sit down with someone at the forefront of that movement: their Director of Innovative Construction, Jennifer Hancock.
Below, Jennifer shares her career trajectory, how she sees integrated project delivery (IPD) fundamentally transforming the way we do construction, and why more women should be getting into the industry.
Why did you decide to get into the construction industry?
I originally got my degree in English and education. I taught junior high for three years, but I quickly realized that teaching wasn’t the career for me. After that, I worked overseas for a bit and then at an engineering firm before landing at Chandos.
It was a bit of a happy accident. I never really considered construction as a career option, but I started at Chandos over 11 years ago, and I’ve never thought about leaving since.
What do you do as Director of Innovative Construction?
No two days are the same. Sustainability is a big piece of my work, and I’m involved in all of our LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects. We divert waste on all of our jobs whenever possible, so I help oversee and manage that. About six years ago, I started to get heavily involved in Lean construction management. I lead training on those principles and speak at events on the topic. We also did one of the first integrated project delivery (IPD) projects in Canada, and I play a big role in those efforts.
What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
Definitely the Mosaic Centre in Edmonton, our first IPD job. Unlike the traditional design-build project delivery method, which places the general contractor in the leading role on a building project, IPD allows the entire building team — including the owner, architect, general contractor, building engineers, and subcontractors — to work collaboratively throughout the construction process.
We were also trying to construct a net-zero building, which is really difficult to do in Edmonton because of the climate, on a relatively tight budget. We knew it would be a challenge, but the owner was really invested. They wanted to change the construction industry through IPD, and they wanted this project to be a catalyst for that. Working on that project was incredible, and we pushed so many new boundaries. Not everything worked out exactly according to plan, but it resulted in a beautiful building and proved to the industry that you can do IPD in Canada.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you’ve started?
The thing I have seen pick up the most steam in the past year is IPD. I’m excited about that because trades, superintendents and craft workers have so much amazing experience and knowledge, but they don’t always get to bring that to the table. IPD empowers trades and allows their voices to be heard, which ultimately make projects better.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with one particular site worker during the Mosaic Centre build. He had been working in construction his whole life, and he said, “If I could work on a job site like this every day, I would love coming to work.”
It was a powerful representation of what IPD can do to empower the worker who might not normally get listened to by general contractors, architects, or owners. It completely changes the relationship between the office and the job site, and everyone I know who’s tried it never wants to go back to their old project delivery method.
What are some of the challenges that come with being a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated field?
When you’re in a room of 20 people, it’s hard not to look around and notice you’re the only woman there. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s definitely something that catches my attention, especially when it comes to the lack of women in leadership positions. That isn’t to say there isn’t mobility for women in companies like Chandos; I actually think there are a ton of opportunities, but we need to get more women in the door to fill them.
What would you tell women about entering the construction industry?
I think there are many women coming out of university without a clear idea of a career path. I’d tell them that construction is an amazing industry, and there’s so much diversity in what you can do. Whether it’s operations or project management or trade work, there’s an opportunity out there for different skill sets and types of learners.
I know there are so many women who would excel in our field; they just need to know it’s an option for them. We’ll never get more balance in our companies until we get an influx of women coming in, so it’s all about getting the word out and helping women take this industry by storm.