This article is one in a series of conversations with women leaders in the construction industry. Click here for past discussions.
Since being hired as an intern in 2003, Allison McCue has spent her time at Webcor learning the ins and outs of each of the company’s divisions.
McCue, who was recently promoted to senior vice president of project planning at the San Francisco-based contractor, benefited from Webcor's job rotation program, which gave her hands-on opportunities in multiple parts of the company.
"Allison has the distinction of having worked in every region where Webcor operates — the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego — and she has put in time with Webcor Builders, Webcor Concrete and Webcor Drywall, giving her unique insights into how the company's various entities interact," said Webcor Executive Vice President Jitendra Pahilajani.
Over the course of her career, the Purdue University graduate has worked on a wide range of projects including student housing at the University of California San Diego, Cal Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Illumina Campus at Lincoln Centre in Foster City and Menlo Gateway Phase 2 in Menlo Park.
McCue also mentors female students from Purdue as part of the university’s Women in Construction organization, guiding them through summer internships and lending support as they start their careers. Here, McCue talks with Construction Dive about how her love of puzzles led her to a career in construction and what she wants other women to know about the industry.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What do you do in your current job?
ALLISON MCCUE: In project planning, I oversee estimating and preconstruction activities, design management, project support, VDC planning and contract compliance across all of Webcor’s regions and market sectors. My role involves working with these various groups and coordinating their activities to ensure a consistent and seamless handoff of projects to our project delivery teams.
What led you to choose construction for your career?
As a preface to my answer here, it should be known that I am fascinated with puzzles, and I have been my entire life. I ended up in construction through Purdue University's freshman engineering program. When you start in engineering at Purdue, you take all your freshman classes together, without a focus on a specific type of engineering.
One of your classes is a seminar class where all the various schools of engineering come in and tell you about themselves and what kinds of jobs you might have after graduation. I originally thought I would pursue chemical engineering but quickly realized I loathed college chemistry with a fiery passion. Once I understood that, I really started to pay attention to that seminar class.
When the civil engineering department made their presentation, they included a portion centered on construction engineering and management, which combines the structural engineering education with construction and management specialties. I remember thinking that construction and buildings are a like a giant puzzle and I was instantly intrigued by the idea of solving these large, tangible problems.
I interviewed to get into the program, and I was placed with Webcor Builders. I have worked at Webcor from that first internship to my current role as SVP of planning.
What are a few of the projects you've most enjoyed working on and why?
One of my favorite projects is Cal Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley. This was one of the most schedule-intense projects I have ever worked on. It really required the entire team — owners, designers, and contractors — to truly work together to achieve a common goal. There were no options for schedule extensions as the first game of the football season was etched in stone and couldn't be changed. The entire team got creative and persevered to get this job to the finish line.
My other favorite project was my time leading our self-perform drywall division. It was a new role for me and I really enjoyed working through the detail of the drywall scope on various projects. It really showed me another side of the business and how to manage risk on projects that are labor intensive.
It was also an amazing team of people to work with and I am so proud of where they have taken the group and the growth they have experienced.
What advice would you give to young women considering a career in construction?
I would tell those individuals to stay true to themselves. This industry needs new voices and disruptions. I encourage young engineers to be themselves and bring their authentic voices to the table. This industry will never change if we keep doing things the same way.
I also tell them to keep learning new scopes/systems/things on each project. There is a tendency to focus on where you are going in terms of your career (i.e., the traditional ladder) and a huge part of that involves learning as many aspects of construction as possible. I tell them to take a risk and learn new scopes. Thinking more long-term about your own development will really pay off later.