Whether you’re talking about technology, systems, hiring or even building materials, the answer is the same: The construction industry is ripe for innovation. As our computers and phones have gotten more and more sophisticated, our buildings haven’t always kept up. However, this won’t be the case for much longer! As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women in Construction Week, we spoke with three women at McKinstry who are on the front lines of innovation in the built environment:
Heather Helgen, Operations Manager, Seattle
Having been in the construction industry since 1999 and at McKinstry since 2007, Heather Helgen has had a front-row seat to some major changes, but one stands out in particular on International Women’s Day and during Women in Construction Week: the increase in women on construction jobsites and in managerial positions.
“I’ve personally interviewed a lot more women in the last five years, and I’ve hired more extremely qualified women who’ve become great teammates,” Heather said. “I think McKinstry is ahead of the curve in this respect, compared to the rest of the industry, which makes me proud to be part of the McKinstry family.”
As an operations manager for McKinstry’s Energy team in the Seattle office, Heather manages a diverse portfolio of people and projects. In addition to seeing great progress with the increase of women at McKinstry, she’s had the opportunity to be involved in the development of many innovations on the jobsite.
Heather noted that buildings are often built around large pieces of equipment, so it’s often difficult to get that equipment out of the building at the end of its useful life. Heather’s Energy team has devised ingenious ways to tackle this work—cutting through buildings, using rollers to slide in and slide out huge pieces of equipment and deploying all types of cranes to get equipment on the top of tall buildings.
As someone who worked her way up the construction management career ladder—from project engineer to project manager to senior project manager to operations manager—Heather has a passion for innovation and empowering the career development of other women at McKinstry.
“It’s not a stretch to hire women anymore, it’s a necessity that leads to even more innovation,” she concluded.
Mireya Fitzloff, Project Manager, Spokane
“McKinstry’s safety culture and programs are completely innovative,” Mireya explained. “Subcontractors often want to copy and use our safety program, which I think is amazing. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
As a project manager in our Spokane office, Mireya spent the better part of nine years on a jobsite—tackling a long-term campus refresh project at Avista Utilities’ headquarters. In addition to working on the jobsite almost every day, she was (and is) responsible for managing project financials, scheduling, contractors, scope, problem-solving in the field and keeping our customers happy.
Mireya also deals with safety frequently on the jobsite, and that’s how she gained an appreciation for McKinstry’s innovative work in that arena.
“Our safety program is comprehensive, and I also think McKinstry’s stance that safety shouldn’t be a trade secret—that we should and do share information with our subcontractors—is unique and refreshing,” Mireya said. “We’re all family here at McKinstry, and we all want everyone to go home safely at the end of the day.”
Mireya feels the same positivity when it comes to being inclusive of women on the jobsite and in the construction industry in general.
“Women provide different perspectives and ideas, we’re good leaders and decision-makers and we create a diverse work environment,” Mireya said. “It can be intimidating being the only female on a jobsite or in a meeting but I’m grateful to be surrounded by colleagues who support diversity and a company that takes excellent care of its people.”
Jennifer Koch, Operations Director, Seattle
“When I started in the Service department as a coordinator, everything was on paper and we worked through print manuals and communicated through two-way radios,” Jennifer recalled. “I remember using pagers too, so it’s amazing to think about where we are today with our mobile app and technology systems.”
Having spent her entire career with McKinstry’s Service team, Jennifer has risen through the ranks and held almost every job in the department before arriving at her current role of operations director. These days, Jennifer is responsible for leading all of McKinstry’s service techs as well as Service’s operations staff in Seattle and Portland.
“I’m making sure everything runs smoothly with our people in the field and in the office—ensuring we’re all meeting our clients’ needs,” Jennifer explained. “Every day is truly different, and that’s what I enjoy most about working at McKinstry, along with the company’s history, people and values. I also like the challenge of balancing the 10,000 work orders and 3,000 annuity contracts we handle every year in Service.”
For the past few years, Jennifer’s team has focused on modernizing the business and their client delivery. For instance, after many years of service techs writing pre-task plans and filling out paper reports in their vans, the entire team has switched to using a mobile application. This app eliminates the need for paper, enhances the tech workflow, improves communication, and generally allows Service to leverage data and information across the entire team—ultimately providing a better product.
“We’re dedicated to evolving our mobile and technology systems even further in the coming years,” Jennifer said. “The marketplace is demanding change, but we’re also committed to enhancing the overall client and technician experience. We’re innovating proactively, and that makes a big difference.”