Growing up in a family of union trade workers, Jessica Avila knew a construction career was in her future. The difficulty was in finding the ideal situation.
After working in residential construction for several years, Avila realized she could use her talents elsewhere. She joined a laborers union three years ago to dedicate her time to commercial-construction projects.
“When you leave at the end of the day, you can see what you have accomplished and it makes you feel really good,” said Avila, a laborer with Mortenson Construction. “I love how everyday is different.”
Since joining Mortenson, she’s worked on several high-profile projects such as the Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons and the St. Camillus Community-Based Residential Facility & Jesuit Residence. Avila is now a sub-foreman on the Wisconsin Entertainment & Sports Center project, where she handles various tasks, such as pouring concrete, managing dust control and cleaning up.
“It is really like a family on the construction site. You are out there together whether you’re cold, hot or standing in the pouring rain,” Avila said. “I love how we celebrate the different milestones on the project – whether it is the topping off, getting the structure enclosed or completing the concrete for the entire project.”
Jon Nehls, field operations manager at Mortenson, said Avila’s high spirits rub off on those around her.
“Jessica has quickly made a name for herself,” he said. “She is passionate about building, leads by example, and is focused on not only completing high-quality work, but most importantly doing it safely. She is always willing to tackle a new challenge.”
Avila also works hard off job sites, helping with initiatives to increase the number of women and young people working in construction.
“I enjoy sharing with people about how being a union trade worker changed my life. I no longer have to work a couple of jobs. I can just work one job and do it well,” said Avila, adding she attends career fairs at high schools. “There are a lot of benefits to work in the field – not everyone is cut out for working in an office.”
Nehls said Avila is good at getting girls interested in construction.
“Women like Jessica are instrumental in helping to share their story and experiences with young girls and encouraging them they can take an alternative path than a traditional four-year college degree,” he said.