Joanne Fay, Emy DeWitt, & Reilly Albert:
Mother and Daughters in Construction
PciRoads, LLC & Kraemer North America
Women have historically made up a small percentage of the construction workforce, and most women who have a family connection to the industry learned by watching their father or grandfather. But today we're highlighting a rarer occurrence in the industry - a love of construction handed down from mother to daughters! Meet Joanne Fay, Emy Dewitt, and Reilly Albert in their profiles below.
Safety & Environmental Director
Kraemer North America
Safety & Environmental Director, PCiRoads, LLC
Forty-two years ago, I was stuck in a porta potty in 95 degree heat and a bunch of guys thought it was funny to shake it. Several of those same guys said I didn’t belong working in construction and I was taking jobs away from men.
Little did they know that I was raised on a farm in the Midwest and was never told women were only allowed to do certain jobs. On the farm, everyone worked and everyone was responsible for their own success. My mother was a classy lady of Irish descent and told all nine of her children to do their best and expect the best from all men and women. She would often say, “If a job needs to be done, simply get it done and do your best doing it.” Of course, I also benefited from years in 4-H where the motto was “To make the best better.” My mother was definitely born before her time and taught her children our competition is not defined by gender, but simply by who is the best. I am forever grateful for her words of wisdom as they gave me a great foundation to build a successful career in many different arenas. My father was an intelligent man of Irish descent, who admittedly was in awe of the ability his nine children had to build a variety of successful careers. My father was from the era where you work at the same company for 30 or 40 years. My father would have been content if his six daughters simply married and stayed home to raise children, at the same time he expected his three sons to build careers to support their families. My parents had a long and beautiful marriage and I think of them as salt and pepper, at the table together but oh so wonderfully different.
After my escape from the porta potty, I never looked back and have spent 42 years building careers of my choice. I started as an apprentice equipment operator in Arizona, before becoming a tree trimmer in Colorado and working in the oil fields. Great jobs for a young, free spirit! When I returned to the Midwest, I went to work for a bridge repair company as a union laborer. I loved the money and the opportunities to become a leader within the industry. In 1987, Milwaukee, WI, I joined PCi (Progressive Contractors Inc) and worked in the job site office while also laboring as needed. Tom Sloan & Steve Weston of PCi were awesome to work with and simply expected people to do their best and to be smart enough to ask questions. Everyone on the crew simply did their best and brought the best out of each other. I hated to leave PCi but family comes first. The construction trade often leads to travel and out of town work, I knew I did not want to be living out of a suitcase while raising children and I made the decision to change careers. I went to school to be a firefighter and scored in the top 5 for a job in Duluth. At the interview, the chief told me he had enough women and hired 8 men. Wow! So I ran for public office and enjoyed six years as an elected official. Let’s just say I made a few waves and I am very proud of driving change across the northeast. Over the next twenty years I held jobs I hated, and jobs I loved but I always kept a strong family as my first priority. My husband had a heart transplant in 1995 and has been a stay-at-home dad ever since. Although, he was really known as a community maintenance man of hockey rinks and baseball fields. Our children had it made, as my husband was a retired bricklayer who sent his kids to kindergarten knowing how to read a tape measure, use a hammer, and how to change a tire. In the summer of 2009 I decided I needed a career change and was not certain of my next path. PCi now known as PCiRoads had just landed a big project in my hometown of Duluth. I knew they would need a flagger on the project and thought that it would be a perfect summer job as I consider my next career move. The good news was it was a job that would help pay the bills while at the sametime I would enjoy some sunshine & vitamin D. I was planning on only working for them for one summer, but when opportunity knocks, answer the door. Over the next five years, I went from a flagger (laborer), to environmental inspector, to assistant project manager, and to the position I hold now as the Safety & Environment Director. It has been a wild ride and an awesome experience, one that I am very thankful for and one that I love. My husband and I have witnessed our six children graduate from college and become successful in their respective fields. Five of our children went on to have successful careers within the construction industry. We have a son who works for Lunda Construction, another son works for FEMA in disaster relief, and a third son who started as a laborer, advanced to project management leading him to a career in software sales. Our daughters Emy and Reilly have also built successful careers within the construction industry. Emy is a superintendent for Kraemer North America in Duluth. Coincidently, Emy recently tore down many of the bridges I worked on years ago and is building new ones. Reilly also started her construction career at PCiRoads as an apprentice laborer. Over the past six years at PCiRoads she has completed her apprenticeship and her college degree. With the field experience and the college education, Reilly moved into project management and is looking forward to managing large scale projects in the coming years. It is an exciting time for women within the construction industry as it is filled with opportunities at every level.
Assistant Superintendent, Kraemer North America
Eleven years ago, after my freshman year of college, I came back to Duluth looking for a summer job. I didn’t know what my future career path would be, but I knew then I wanted an outdoor job that would help pay for school. I took a laborer job working for the same company my mother worked for. I showed up on a bridge for my first day where my coworkers helped set me up with a dust mask, earplugs, hardhat, vest, and told me to get to work. I picked up a jackhammer for the first time on the I535 flyover bridge from Superior to Duluth. I will always remember leaving after my first day remembering to pack sunscreen from now on. Though I was tired and sore, I came back the next day. I made friends on my crew who shared laughs, jokes, and hard work. I continued with this crew for the remaining weeks of the project. As we finished up, another superintendent asked if I wanted to stay in Duluth with his crew. I joined a joint repair crew where we did the north and southbound joints of the Blatnik bridge in the Summer of 2012.
I continued this path for several years working my way up and learning the trades. This career has taken me across the country building and repairing bridges around the clock. I have learned literally 90% of my job being out in the field! While working in construction I have earned an undergraduate degree in Accounting and a master’s degree in Leadership and Change. I work with some of the best and brightest people who are professionals in their trade. I won’t say the glass ceiling is shattering all around me but it does help to wear a hard hat. I am proud to be a female superintendent, but I am equally proud to say my coworkers endorse my leadership.
Earlier this year it was a bittersweet moment to be removing the bridge I first started on in 2012, but now as a Superintendent, I am leading the charge to build a new bridge. Truly an amazing journey I am on!
Project Manager, PCiRoads, LLC
I zipped up my first yellow vest in May of 2017 on the TH 53 Relocation project in Virginia, MN. I was hired on as a laborer for a slip form barrier and rail crew. At the time I was 19 and had just finished my freshman year of college and first season of Division lll hockey. I knew I needed to save up for school while also maintaining a physically active lifestyle outside of hockey season. Growing up, I watched my parents and my siblings thrive in the trades and knew it was something I wanted to be part of. At the end of my first construction season I knew I was going to be coming back for seasons to come.
I spent five years continuing to work on the same crew. They taught me everything from setting lines to operating equipment. Some of them were even able to share stories about when they worked with my mom and sister in the field years ago.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire I decided to continue my career in construction and become a Project Manager. I now spend most of my days on bridges and occasionally get to cross paths with my old crew. Not only did my education and field experience prepare me for the next step in my career but the confidence instilled in me by watching my mother and my sister become successful women in the construction industry.