Nikki's passion for construction and attention to detail is infectious to the rest of the MCL team, the owners we build for, and the design teams we build with on a regular basis.
March 4-10 is Women in Construction Week. Right now, women make up just 9% of the construction workforce according to the National Association of Women in Construction and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, women working in construction have increased by almost 140,000 since 2012. The opportunities are endless.
Last January at the MCL Construction annual meeting, Nikki presented to the entire company about her passion for the craft and what makes construction such an exciting field in which to work.
Oh boy, I have a lot to say here. I have known since my senior year of high school that I wanted to be involved in some capacity with the stabilization, redevelopment, and strengthening of neighborhoods and their communities and resource conservation. I can trace my entire career thus far back to watching a documentary on the rise and decline of Detroit in Ms. Rubenstein’s AP Environmental Science class. During the documentary, I took great interest in learning about the various de facto and de jure policies that had led my region’s namesake into such a spiral. However, what also caught my attention at the time was the feedback from professionals as to how a city implements economic development and neighborhood market revitalization strategies to move toward a successful future. Noting the words “urban planning” under the names of those being interviewed, I declared my undergraduate major at Michigan State University in Urban and Regional Planning during my academic orientation and never looked back.
In the time between declaring my undergraduate major and present day, I fulfilled positions focused on a range of causes I care about related to the field of urban and regional planning, including local food system development, commercial and neighborhood revitalization, transportation/energy infrastructure advocacy, and the repurposing of abandoned, vacant, and foreclosed properties. But while I was dedicated to every role I was fortunate to carry out, I found I was most fascinated by and passionate about my work rehabilitating vacant properties.
While I was working toward my Bachelor of Science in urban planning, I hadn’t realized that when it comes to some of the real estate projects urban planners want to see come to fruition, their involvement usually ends at informing the zoning code or including ideas in a master plan for someone else to implement. Even if municipalities and/or neighborhood districts set strict façade requirements, urban planners are still not typically involved in the architectural/engineering design process nor do they work in conjunction with the owners who finance the development, whose interest in meeting the requirements of their proforma or use for the building may lead to sacrificing architectural quality and building construction longevity, that will ultimately affect the neighborhoods where these dwellings exist. Additionally, those in construction that don’t have a background in urban planning or an interest in the reason for and impact of that profession’s work are usually not thinking of their building projects holistically with regard to where and how they fit within a neighborhood and region.
My decision to make a move from urban planning to the construction industry took place while employed at my first job after undergrad, a quasi-governmental organization that handles repurposing vacant, foreclosed properties in Detroit. During my tenure there, I was fortunate to have my job description grow to encompass many areas, including monitoring the acquisition of vacant properties; tracking preconstruction activities; fulfilling the role of a project engineer during construction; and assisting with the sale of homes. While working there, I became concerned about my initial lack of knowledge about the construction process and what drives that industry. In particular, I was concerned over my lack of understanding with regard to how much the rehabilitation projects we wanted to see happen in existing neighborhoods cost and what it takes to pull off a seamless, successful project. I also began to wonder how much value I could bring to considering the feasibility of ideas originating from neighborhood planning charrettes if I could speak to the dollars required to make these plans a reality.
Feeling as though urban planners could use an ally in the neighboring profession of construction, I pursued a Master’s in construction management so I would gain the classroom credentials that private construction firms look for to complement my professional development through practice. Ultimately, I wanted to assist with making the building renovation and rehabilitation projects that play a role in sustainable land use planning a reality, and although indirectly, help communities address vacant, abandoned property and the consequences it brings. This is also why I went into estimating. In this role, I currently seek to continuously learn about building and site design and how various scope is constructed in the field so I can better generate accurate conceptual estimates detailing the cost of the work. The reconciliation of a project’s budget with the estimated cost to complete the work (which are two very different things) is the point in which projects either continue along in the design/construction process or die. A great preconstruction team complete with the architect/engineer, construction professionals, and an owner can generate design and constructability ideas that save a project.
It would be an understatement to say I have been fortunate when it comes having great mentors, spanning the different professions I have touched. With that being said, my biggest influences in the construction industry are two individuals who I spent a lot of time working under when I started estimating, and who fortunately for me took my training very seriously – Chad Nelson and Diane Major. They are adept at asking and addressing thought-provoking questions when very little information is shown to ensure their estimates include a scope that would otherwise be overlooked if one doesn’t take the time to be thorough. In addition to sharing their approach and letting me attempt to soak up their knowledge, they showed me what it looks like and what it means to be on a supportive estimating team. They are also two people that put their heart into everything they do. I will always be indebted to them for taking me on as a student and having my back.
What projects interest you the most?
There is something to love about every project, but because of my interest in preserving historic buildings, maintaining the fabric of neighborhoods, and resource conservation, renovations tend to be my favorite jobs. I love being a member of teams that keep existing buildings in use and bring lost gems back to life.
What would you tell young women today who are considering or may not have considered working in construction?
The construction industry touches every industry that needs a built space to carry out their work, every dwelling where people live or recreate, and on a grander scale, affects the landscape – urban or otherwise – where people carry out their lives. It may not feel like it during every moment once you get into the rhythm of going to work every day, but working in the construction industry will give you an opportunity to positively impact the people and places you care about. And it needs all types of skillsets, whether you prefer working with your hands, working with design, managing contracts and schedules, working with numbers – the sky is the limit. And last but certainly not least, the industry and the landscapes and people it impacts benefit from having diversity – in every sense of the word – on the teams that carry out each project.