Despite being disheartened, Jo persevered and eventually wore down a builder who offered her a trial if she was willing to work – for free – for 3 months, before moving on to an apprenticeship.
Jo’s career spans over two decades and across multiple spectrums of the industry. A qualified carpenter by trade, licenced builder, certified building designer and now General Manager at Kane Constructions ACT (a multi-million dollar construction company), Jo has literally worked from the ground up to be where she is today.
In 1996, Jo finished high school with abysmal grades. And while she had no intention of going to university, her dream careers had always been to either becoming a vet, or a builder. Given her lacklustre grades (not to mention an aversion to blood and needles), vet science was out of the question, building was the way to go.
Though her dream career, Jo didn’t realise just how hard this path would be. Growing up in a working class area of Wollongong, apprenticeships were generally snapped up by young men at the BHP steel plant. Jo quickly found out that the building industry had no time for women as she dropped off her CV to every builder in the greater Wollongong area. She became a regular face on sites as she attempted to speak with tradesmen and business owners, ringing people incessantly to ask for an opportunity, a chance to demonstrate her skills which were just as good as the boy's, if not better. But consistently she was rejected.
Every rejection had the same hallmark comments:
“We don’t employ girls”
“You’re not strong enough”
“Girls are a distraction”
“It’s a man’s job, not a woman’s job”
“If you want an apprenticeship, go and be a hairdresser”
And so on.
Despite being disheartened (a person can only be rejected so many times), Jo persevered and eventually wore down a builder who offered her a 3 month trial. If she was willing to work for free. Now free doesn't pay the bills, but finally she had been given an opportunity and she ran with it. This marked the beginning of a long and challenging, but ultimately successful journey into the world of Building and Construction.
After those 3 months, Jo had proven that she was willing to work hard and began her apprenticeship in earnest; studying one day a week at TAFE and working Monday to Saturday for the next 4 years. With a willingness to learn and a natural curiosity, Jo moved to Sydney in her third year and commenced façade work on commercial building sites, subcontracting to the likes of Lendlease, John Holland, Watpac, Leighton and other multi national building companies. At completion of her apprenticeship, she continued her studies, and enrolled in night courses to complete her Cert IV and Diploma in Building, while undertaking business management and an advanced diploma of building design.
From there, Jo managed a structural steel company and worked on some of the most iconic Sydney landmarks, such as Pitt Street Mall, Sydney Grammar School, World Square, Sydney Airport and the cross city tunnel.
She joined the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Sydney chapter in 2003, and was a mentee in one of their first programs rolled out in that year. She was paired with Alison Mirams, who is now the CEO of Roberts Co and a veritable titan in the industry. Jo and Alison have remained friends ever since and Jo credits Alison as one of the most influential people in her life, who provided critical and strategic advice in relation to development and recognising self worth.
In 2009, Jo moved overseas and took an opportunity to work on a 300m Euro Nuclear Decommissioning Facility in Lithuania. During this time Jo learnt to read, write and speak in Russian and was the only female employed in a site based role. This experience gave Jo an insight into the technically challenging and diverse world of nuclear construction and also gave her the opportunity to travel to over 42 countries in 3 years.
Returning to Australia in 2013, Jo established herself in the ACT and calls Canberra home. She has worked across the civil, residential, and commercial building sectors and now leads as the General Manager for Kane Constructions in the ACT.
Jo is passionate about seeing more women in construction and has increased Kane ACT’s gender equity from 6% in February 2020 to 42% in October 2020. Her focus and drive is to work with government, peak industry bodies, unions, training organisations and progressive building contractors to engage, recruit, train and employ women in all trade roles, not necessarily those just defined as apprenticeships. As a part of this, Jo is a Mentor for Women Building Australia - master Builders Association (MBA) 2021. She has also been elected onto the NAWIC National Board of Directors, working with NAWIC to women representation in the construction industry is a key priority for all.
Jo wants to ensure that the challenges and hardships she endured are not relived by women taking their first steps into the industry. Her personal mission is to create pathways and opportunities for women of any age, social status, income level, and ethnicity to work in construction; knowing they have the full support and guidance of other women who have walked this path before them. With this in mind, Jo founded Build Like A Girl. A movement, created by women for women with the aim to see them succeed and thrive in the construction industry for generations to come.