The Couture is an impressive 47-story high-rise skyscraper being built in downtown Milwaukee that will be the tallest residential building in Wisconsin. It overlooks the vast Lake Michigan and will feature a central transit hub with public plazas and retail spaces.
At the center of the project are Brooke Scott and Jessica Grensavitch who work together to deliver materials for construction of The Couture. Brooke is the assistant project manager while Jessica is a union laborer on the finish carpentry team. As employees of Findorff, the general contractor on the project, both women value the company’s commitment to worker safety.
Brooke and Jessica work long days and do what it takes to get the job done. They are two of the few women on the job site, which comes with its challenges, but they both love their careers and can’t imagine a job where they wouldn't be able to get their hands dirty.
What do you do and what is your favorite part about your job?
Jessica: “I am a union laborer by trade. I typically perform demo operations, pour concrete for foundations, sidewalks, and other structures. In this process, I often guide materials with the crane to our crew of rough carpenters so they can form the structures. Once the building’s structure is complete, I often move to a finish carpentry crew where I handle deliveries of all the finish materials, such as doors and cabinets. As the material is received, my team and I deliver it throughout the building for installation.
My favorite part of my job is the versatility – every day is different. I also like assisting others, to make their jobs easier, and utilize my problem solving and organizational skills. The job security as a laborer is important to me since we are usually on the job the longest. As the old saying goes, ‘laborers are the first ones in and the last ones out.’”
Brooke: “I’m a very hands-on learner and want to have my boots on the ground so I can physically see the project and understand the needs. I’m usually in the field problem solving and working hand-in-hand with the trades people to make sure they have the necessary materials they need on time.
I’m also constantly breaking down our manpower and figuring out how many people we have on a task and whether that’s efficient and on-budget. I get to see all parts of the construction on a day-to-day level, which helps me to anticipate the future needs of the project.
My favorite part of my job is being able to create a plan, share it with our field crews, and then watch that plan being implemented in the real world.”
Why did you decide to go into the construction industry?
Jessica: “My whole family is in construction. My dad is a union iron worker, and my uncle and cousin are union elevator installers. There are a total of nine union workers in the family.
I was always good at working with my hands. As a kid, I used to hang out with my dad in the garage and learn from him. When I was 15, I started drywalling and painting with my mom and stepdad. Then at the age of 19, I co-owned a roofing company until I was 25. Then I had two young kids and left construction for a while, but once my children got older, I went right back to work!”
Brooke: "I would always look at tall buildings and construction projects with fascination when I was young. Once I got to college, I found my way to construction management and the problem solving that came with it.
I love being able to see where things fit into place. I’m a hands-on learner and being in the construction field helps me learn by physically interacting with projects. If I can't fully comprehend something, I can go into the field and look at the issue to better understand what is going on and find a solution.”
What does it feel like to work on one of the largest building projects in Milwaukee?
Jessica: “It feels absolutely amazing to work on The Couture. I have worked on several large-scale projects in the Milwaukee area. It’s like building a portfolio!
Some of the other impressive Milwaukee structures I’ve worked on are the Northwest Mutual building (44-story high-rise), the Fiserv Forum (Milwaukee Bucks arena), the vertical expansion at Froedtert Hospital, and St. Camillus (15-story assisted living center). I also demoed the old Heart Hospital, the old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building, and the Milwaukee Athletic Club downtown.
It’s very rewarding to show my now-adult children all the buildings I worked on as they were growing up and seeing them think of their mom as a real badass!”
Brooke: “It’s a learning experience of a lifetime. Working on the Couture gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. High-rises like this don’t go up every day and I may not have a chance to work on something like this again.
Prior to this project, I helped manage the construction of an aquatics center with a fairly simple foundation. The Couture allowed me to understand the intricacies and materials needed to build such a complex concrete deck and structure."
What advice would you give to women interested in your career?
Jessica: “It isn’t the easiest thing to come into when you’re surrounded by guys who have been doing this for 20-30 years. You just have to keep your head up, learn your craft, and do it well. Eventually they will realize you’re capable of the job, deserve to be there, and merit respect.
Remember to keep your head up, learn all that you can, and stand up for yourself by showing that you won’t take any shit.”
Brooke: “My advice to other women that are interested in construction is to follow your passion. If you love construction and want to pursue that as a career, do it. Don't let fear of not fitting in or being different drive you towards something you're not sure about.
Also, don’t be afraid or overwhelmed with what you’re getting into – even if you’re the only woman on the project. There will always be some who don’t want to listen to what you have to say, but don’t back down. Be confident in what you’re saying if you know what needs to get done.”
Why is it important to support other women in your field?
Jessica: “A union job has good money and benefits. Women should be able to reap the rewards this lifestyle provides. I was a single mom for so many years and just barely making it. But my life changed drastically when I got in the union – I didn’t need nobody no more.
If women can do the work, they deserve to be out there earning those wages and building their pensions for retirement. Women in this work need support, especially working moms. My kids were grown up when I got into the trade, but now there’s a lot of support for childcare and maternity leave."
Brooke: “It's important to support one another because we all see things through a different lens and may have experienced a situation that someone else is going through. Being there to provide support or insight on to how you navigated a similar situation can be incredibly helpful. And hearing something like that from another supportive female can be powerful.”
How important is it to feel safe and confident at work?
Jessica: "Without the right safety equipment and a team committed to safety, my job simply wouldn’t be possible. Findorff offers safety awards, sets clear expectations for a safe working environment, and ensures the teams stretch every morning and clearly communicate with each other."
Brooke: “It's very important to feel safe at work and it’s Findorff’s number one objective to ensure workers get home safely to their families. Safety is the first thing we discuss every morning when the workday begins and whenever there is a new scope of work.
The support system available at Findorff has really helped me grow. I continue to have opportunities to shadow, ask questions, and learn from other project managers as I advance in my career."