Today’s guest is Tania Bosch.
Here’s our job talk with a general contractor.
Welcome to The Job Talk Podcast.
Where we talk with people who love their jobs.
Our guest open up about their challenges, surprises and secrets to success in their industries through conversation and we explore their careers, past work experiences, and the education that got them to where they are now.
What kind of a high school student were you? And did you always know that you were going to get into construction? Hmm.
OK, I thought you were going to ask me a totally different question.
How I was I would say slightly above average in high school.
I was definitely, as I said, at the front of the room, kind of a kid, maybe even teacher’s pet.
But my my marks were either in that honors or just below honors, sort of a realm And I would say if I did well, it was probably more because I worked really hard, not because it always came really easy to me.
Definitely the subjects that I really enjoyed were a snap.
And the ones that I wasn’t interested in, I struggled in.
And did you know that you would one day end up in construction? Not, not specifically.
So I was always interested and fascinated with architecture.
And I actually thought that I wanted to be an architect.
So it’s a related field.
It definitely is.
Ultimately, why did you decide not to look at architecture as a career? Well, I guess indirectly I did.
I started in the architectural program at NAIT, and I was actually the last class to graduate urban planning.
And when I started in architecture that year, they actually took 90 students into the program, and they only had room for 60 in architecture.
And so their basis as to how people would gravitate to one discipline or the other was based on I guess, primarily interest.
So if you wanted to stay in architecture, you could, but they took the top 60 marks.
And they gave us a bit of a presentation about architecture versus urban planning.
And at that time, as much as I was fascinated with architecture, I didn’t know if I wanted to continue my education to become an architect.
And I felt like there were more opportunities in a technical position in urban planning.
So I switched.
So I started and then deviated.
That leads us into your first post-secondary experience Was that directly like the September after you graduated from high school? No.
I took a year off and I worked and sort of just dabbled in courses.
So I took a course at a time each semester, but primarily worked knowing that I wanted to go to school.
But it was OK be to save a little money and take a bit of a break.
Yeah, that’s smart, actually.
And I would encourage a lot of people to take the time to figure things out like that.
You went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Let’s talk about some of the courses that you took.
It was urban planning.
Is that what the program was called? Yeah.
So they no longer offer the program at NAIT.
However, it’s part of the Architectural Technologies umbrella.
So at the time, interior design, landscape architecture, architecture and urban planning were all part of the architectural technologies So everyone within that faculty took the same first semester, and then you separate it off into your you know, specific disciplines after the first semester.
And when you.
Is it a diploma or a degree that you get? Yeah, it’s a diploma program.
OK, and then what type of careers are you looking at when you graduate from that program? So specific to urban, you would be looking at either working for a private consulting firm or a municipality doing technical work within the urban planning field.
So drafting technical processing of land development applications, so somewhat related to architecture, but more big picture and more sort of land development of areas related, which happens before sort of the architectural part comes into play.
Two year program? At NAIT was the two.
So you finished your program at NAIT.
Let’s talk about your very first job as an adult, graduated from a post-secondary.
Well, I actually lucked out.
I believe they still offer these programs.
But at the time, there was a step program, which was a summer temporary employment program that was offered offered to students within, I think every faculty to get experience within the field while in school.
And so I got a summer position with the city of Edmonton prior to graduating, which was great because it gave me four, four months of experience within the industry.
And it also gave me great networking opportunities with people already in the field.
So I did that, and then I was lucky enough to have them keep me on through my second year, and I worked just one or two days a week and then graduated with them phoning to offer me a position.
So I worked for the city in my first role kind of within the industry, and I stayed with the city for seven years in a couple of different capacities.
Did you think you would always stay with the city that was your career? Did you or were you always looking to do something else? No.
You know, at the time, if you would ask me, I would have thought that I’d I’d have been there for my entire career.
Just because it offered great work life balance and the, you know, the pay the compensation was great relative to a lot of other opportunities and it afforded it afforded things on the work life, life balance and the things that you often don’t have.
The opportunity to experience if you’re self-employed or if you work in private industry.
So it takes a special person to take the leap into starting a company and working for yourself.
So I indicated when we first started the podcast that I wanted to hear what it was like when the day after you decided, OK, I think I’m going to start a construction company.
Can you can you remember that moment? Yes.
It wasn’t the business that I currently have.
It was another business.
And what had happened was when I went on maternity leave with my son, I was still working for the city, but I was connected indirectly to a contractor through a coworker of mine.
And while maternity leave was fantastic, I found it challenging to, I guess, be fulfilled.
I had a really hard time just staying home and and not doing anything.
And so I started working for a contractor just to kind of help out doing renderings and putting some organizational structures in place to just sort of occupy some time And when my maternity leave was done, I made the decision to not go back to work for the city, but to work for this contractor.
And I was there for a year.
We did primarily residential construction, and we did a mix of new construction as well as renovations And so I got exposure into a lot of different aspects of construction and quickly sort of found a niche in managing projects, but didn’t quite connect with the contractor that I was working with.
And it was actually a client that gave me the push to first go out on my own They said, Why don’t you do this for yourself? And I think I replied, I can’t do that.
And they said, Well, you already are.
And I had never really looked at it that way because I had that security blanket of working for someone else.
And the alignment just wasn’t there with the person that I was working for.
And when that project ended, it was like, Yeah, I definitely should try this.
And I never really looked back at it.
It wasn’t really anything I was afraid of.
Although I’ve talked to people and they often say, you know, I don’t know how you do that.
Like, it would just be so stressful.
And it’s and it definitely is at times.
I’m one of those people.
I’m one of those people that.
That was your first ownership of a construction company.
Can we call it a construction company? Yeah, for sure.
What do you think you learned from that first experience? Yeah.
So I had that business for five years, and I guess you could say it didn’t work out, but I would say it just led me to the next thing that gave me the background.
I needed to be where I am now.
I would say the biggest lesson is that one component of what you do is the action, the actual execution of whatever it is you’re involved in.
So for me, it was construction projects.
But the other part of that is running a business and the two are not the same and they don’t require the same skill set.
And you have to learn very quickly which parts of the business you’re good at and which parts of the business you need to leave in someone else’s capable hands.
And that’s an excellent lesson.
So you had that company for five years.
Did you do something in between in that that company and the company that you’re running right now and that you own right now? Yeah, for sure.
I went to work for a large general contracting firm here in the city, and I worked for them as a project manager.
And in that role, I managed the warranty department, and I also took on various projects.
So within the warranty department, although unfortunate, it’s a great opportunity because you get to see the things that shouldn’t happen and you get an opportunity to make them better.
And so you learn great you learn great skills with people.
My I often was in a position of taking things from a negative to neutral position as opposed to being in a situation where people are happy and enjoy working with you.
So you learn a lot of really great skill, lots of great skills doing that and you also get to learn a lot of great things about that you can apply to future situations.
And then I used to take a lot of projects over either you know, if by chance there wasn’t a fit between the project manager and the client, or perhaps the project manager moved on to other opportunities, I often had the opportunity to slide into those jobs and finish them.
So I often took something that had already been started, had to do a lot of problems solving and then get it through to the finish line.
And those problem solving skills are really tested to the limits.
When you aren’t involved with something right from the get go.
And how many years were you in that position for? Just under eight.
Just under eight.
Let’s talk about your company now.
Could you tell us a little bit about your company, the name of the company, and then we’ll start to talk about what you’re doing as a.
So the company is called Bouwen Construction.
Bouwen is Dutch for build, and I come from Dutch Heritage.
So that was sort of the premise for the name.
Basically, we are a quality driven contracting firm here in Edmonton.
We are open to doing both residential and commercial work, but very much focused on relationship.
And so that does tend to lend itself more to higher end residential work than other types of construction within the industry.
But we I definitely have experience doing a variety of types of projects although we do have in-house staff.
Our primary focus or I guess approach is to subcontract work out.
So while I project manage the projects and we have an in-house construction site, construction supervisor and an admin team, the sub trade work is all contracted out to certified trades.
My wife is an interior designer, so I have I’ve heard some of her stories working in the construction world.
We’re going to get into your day to day work and what you do every day.
I just want to start by asking how is it being a woman in the construction industry? It’s 2022.
Are we getting more respect now, do you think? Or are there still issues.
You know, I think if you really look into it or focus on it, there’s definitely issues.
I don’t I don’t see them as issues.
I just see them as part of the gig.
And so I would say it takes a special kind of person because you have to definitely have a strategic approach to the challenges you encounter that are specific to like being a woman in a very male dominated industry.
But I also think there are huge advantages, and I have never looked at anything from I’m a man versus I’m a woman and, you know, woe is me, or what are the pros or cons? I’ve always looked at it as if you can prove yourself and demonstrate your ability.
There’s really nothing to talk about.
There may be a challenge sort of temporarily, but ultimately your ability to step up to the table and and show what you you’re capable of takes the rest of it out of the equation.
So by all means, you would encourage girls, women in post-secondary to look at, you know, going into this industry.
And, you know, what I would say is that I think that we have a huge advantage And although I do primarily work with men other than the design component of the project, I think that and I’m kind of speaking for them.
But I would think that a lot of the men that I work with would rather deal with a woman than a man, because there’s just a different we just bring different skill set to the table and it’s really advantageous to a project Yeah, but definitely for sure.
Let’s talk about your day to day.
Could you and I’m guessing that like a lot of careers, the days change, but maybe we can get a generic.
What happens when you wake up and what happens in your day? Sure.
So I think as with anyone who is self-employed, it isn’t so much a job as it is a bit of an extension of who you are as a person.
If you need to that nine to five, I’m not working.
I don’t know that self-employment is always for you.
That being said, I definitely think that I could work on better, be better boundaries.
But typically my day starts early and it starts with either like back administer and so dealing with accounting people or following up on paperwork that has to be addressed.
I’m a mom, so that kind of plays into things.
So then we usually stop to do the mom things which are like school drop off, etc.
And then I usually visit our job site in the morning.
So we usually run two to three projects at a time and I’m out every project every day that something’s happening where we would do everything from get trades running to reviewing the work that was done the day before to just checking on quality, ensuring that anything that was missed or needs to be followed up on can And then I usually shift to project planning from sort of a review of our current site stuff.
So that involves meeting with new clients, potentially meeting with trades or other professionals that would be involved in the project.
So sometimes it’s the interior designer And then I usually end my day with more paperwork or perhaps proposal writing and I’m not every day is the same.
There is a lot of variety and there’s a lot of jumping around because when you’re project planning, you’re getting questions for active projects and vice versa.
And then there’s also things that come up with out throughout the day that you have to adapt to.
So somebody is on a site and something came up unexpectedly.
It might require me to go back to that site, or it might require me to schedule a meeting with a client that I wasn’t expecting So there’s a lot of pivoting throughout the day.
What do you love about your career and the job that you’re doing? I love that there’s variety.
I love that every day is different.
I genuinely am I have a passion and an interest in construction, so I love seeing it come together mostly from the perspective of the client’s vision, though, it’s really kind of irrelevant.
I kind of use this phrase of I don’t care if we’re doing lino or limestone.
I just want it to be done well, And so oftentimes the client doesn’t really see how it’s all going to come together the same way we do.
And so I appreciate that look on their face and we’re done.
But I, I probably even more than not feel like we’re really trying.
I don’t know that we’re always at our best, but we’re trying to make a difference within the industry.
So builders and contractors in general, I think, get a really bad rap You know, it’s always over budget.
It’s always late.
It’s always, you know, there’s always something unexpected.
And there’s often things that turned out and they weren’t the way we wanted them to be.
And so that’s probably my favorite part is, is giving feeling like we can give people an experience that is different than what it has, what they think it’s going to be.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on? Is there one piece in your portfolio that you’re most proud of? One was prior to going back to my own and it was a scenario where a client had a client felt that they didn’t want to continue the relationship they had with their existing contractor.
And came to us and I had an opportunity to finish the project, and I actually had an opportunity to work with the original contractor and bring them to the table to finish off some of the things they needed to do to allow us to progress and also give them an opportune maybe to address things that needed to be addressed as part of the construction process, which is a really kind of an unusual thing within our industry.
And it actually developed a really great relationship with that other contractor where I think we have a lot of mutual respect.
We just appreciated that perhaps for that particular project, they maybe want the best fit for the client.
So that one was great.
And the other one was a project that I did years ago where we kept we kept a lot of the interior and we retrofitted and updated it to bring it sort of to new.
It’s really easy to rip everything out and start over.
It’s very different when you try to use a lot of the same components of what you’re working with and just sort of bring it into current day.
What are some challenges that really stand out to you as owner of a construction company? I’m only as good as the relationships that I have with people, so at times that’s challenging from the perspective that we’re always juggling.
You know, I work for my client, but my trade relationships are super important, and so I’m managing those constantly at the same time that I’m managing projects.
And so that really teaches you to be humble and respectful of the people that you’re working with and what they need to get their job done.
So it isn’t just a scenario of like, come on Monday, you only have till Tuesday, get this finished.
I kind of need to know in the background everything that’s going on for each of the people that I work with that could affect what we’re doing.
So we’re constantly juggling I mentioned pivoting, but we’re constantly pivoting.
With that, COVID has definitely added a new dimension into our industry.
The supply chain issues are really becoming something that we’re challenged with and that are very real on a very regular basis.
We’ve taken to just changing our approach.
We plan, reorder, we schedule, but we push back if we’re getting to that start date and things aren’t here.
And I do that because I’d much rather you be disappointed at the end and we not start as opposed to get into a project.
And then we shut a site down for weeks or potentially months I think perhaps pricing and client expectations can be a challenge.
Um, you know, there’s this triangle of quality time and price and we always say, pick two.
Which do you, what do you value? What do you want to see? And so it’s a bit of a challenge in that I don’t everybody approaches the project from a different perspective and it’s based on their business model and their philosophy and, and mine is very much under-promise and overdeliver.
And so it works out as it should because I believe that I attract the type of clientele that also values what I value.
But it can be challenging at times because other people can win out on the front end, either because they’ve, you know, they’ve sold a job or bought a job as as we refer to it in the industry or they haven’t they haven’t put together a proposal based on the same parameters that I have.
Um, but I don’t really look at it as a challenge.
I, if anything, I probably feel bad for the client, um, in those instances and feel bad not because you know, in some aspects of it they’re getting what they want.
So if they don’t necessarily, if they value price over, over other aspects of the project, then that’s probably the right fit for them.
But you don’t know what you don’t know, right? Often you’re coming to a contractor because you don’t know the nuances of the industry, or you assume that whoever you’ve hired is an expert and a professional.
And so it’s it can be challenging to, to sort of see people kind of work through those decisions.
I love how we go from a global pandemic to a supply chain issue now.
And I think they’re both connected.
I think when caused the other one to happen, but aside from problems like a pandemic and the global supply chain problem, has there been any other surprises that you have experienced in owning a construction company? You know, my philosophy is that there or I believe I should say my philosophy, I believe that there will never be a day that starts and ends in which I didn’t learn something or there wasn’t something that I could do better the next time.
And so there’s always challenges and there’s always uncertainty and there’s always unforeseen.
But if you use all of those opportunities, to to have the outcome look a little differently the next time, then it’s positive.
And I just really appreciate having an opportunity every day to do something for myself as opposed to somebody else and to try to do good work.
And and I think that can be said of anyone in any industry.
You know, it doesn’t have to be construction.
It’s a great opportunity for self-employment.
If you want to make a difference and you want to do something for yourself and you want to reap the rewards of your hard work.
Because when you, you know, sometimes when you work for someone else, they risk they reap the rewards of your hard work.
No, I you know, it’s challenging because you’re you’re always juggling so many things.
You’re juggling cash flow and supply chain and the client and trades But it’s I guess it’s just part of the gig.
Yeah, for sure.
I think this might end up being a two part question to you.
I’m wondering if you can give advice to a woman considering going into the trades and whether you think she should do it or not.
And and the second is advice to somebody considering taking the leap and starting the construction company.
So I think that anyone, be they sort of guy or gal I think that you should really investigate and inquire and be inquisitive if there’s things that you’re interested in.
I know for myself, I’m always happy to, even if I’m not the right fit for someone or I don’t have the answers or I can’t give them sort of the mentoring or the support of the answers, I’m always happy to point them in the direction of someone else that could do that, be it another trade, another industry.
But we’re all like we’re all connected so I think you just have to ask the questions.
I’ve hired summer students in the past and just had them in more of I don’t even like more of a mentorship role, you know, first year students that really have no experience in the industry.
So you’re you’re really getting someone super green, but you’re giving them the ability to just get exposure.
And even if they don’t like it, I still think that’s a valuable experience because then they know what they don’t want to do.
Which is sometimes just as valuable as knowing what you do want to do.
I think there’s there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of room for women to do some really great things within the trades and I haven’t seen I haven’t really seen women not welcomed as long as, you know, kind of what I said before.
You prove yourself and I don’t really think that women have a disadvantage.
If anything, I think we have an advantage over men just because we have a different approach to communication.
We have a different sense of maybe intuitiveness and empathy and those are really great qualities and characteristics.
And we not that men can’t, but we we have a different attention to detail which is a tremendous asset.
And now I can’t remember the second half of your question.
I think somebody’s taking a leap into owning a construction company because, you know, they’re out there thinking about.
Yeah, for sure.
one thing that I could offer is to surround yourself with people that are like minded and positive and supportive I try to surround myself with a lot of other people doing, you know, that are that are self-employed, that are entrepreneurs that don’t have the philosophy or the approach of like, shh, that’s a secret.
We can’t talk about that.
I am willing to sit down with anyone who approaches me.
And, you know, I’ll share my contract, I’ll share my estimate template, I’ll share my approach my philosophy.
And I think of it as if they’re meant to.
They’ll they’ll run with it and make it better.
And that makes me feel good.
And if they’re not well, they’re not going to look at it anyways.
So really, nothing is, you know, nothing is lost it is a lot of hard work and determination for sure.
Your your desire to do something has to be greater than your fear of what could happen.
Because there are there definitely are a lot of things you could be afraid of, but they just can’t and you have to be someone that doesn’t have them enter into the equation.
Um, and you have to be willing to, to fail and just know that you’re going to fail again and again and again.
But all of those things are going to lead you to, to ultimately where you want to be.
And the failure isn’t a reflection of your, your value or your worth or your ability to succeed.
It’s part of the process.
It’s kind of a to be expected.
That is excellent advice.
Tanya, I’d just like to thank you for joining us today.
I think people can really learn from from the things that you said today.
Thanks for having me.
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