Most Red River College grads want to go far. Almost three years after earning a Bachelor of Technology in RRC’s Construction Management degree program, Josh Wells has barely gone beyond the parking lot.
Not that his career has stalled. Now a project superintendent, 24-year-old Wells got off to a running start, locking down a job with Akman Construction in 2015, working on RRC’s new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre (STTC) at the southeast corner of the Notre Dame Campus.
“I got the opportunity to work with Ken Harasym, who is regarded as the best superintendent in the Prairies — for sure in the city — so that was obviously an attractive offer,” Wells says.
“The company itself is highly, highly regarded in the city and I just thought it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t work for this company.”
Recently, Wells began running his own job site as project superintendent on RRC’s new MotiveLab, a 3,000-square-foot research facility for heavy vehicles.
Wells credits his father John Wells, who is president of Crosier Kilgour & Partners consulting structural engineers, for helping him get his foot in the door at Akman, and for stoking his interest in construction in the first place.
“It kind of started with Take Our Kids to Work Day in Grade 9. I got to see what my dad did for a living,” he says.
“We spent the first half of the day in the office and then the second half of the day we went out and visited job sites, and the part that stuck with me was the job-site aspect of it — being outside, being on the job site and actually constructing the building.”
His high school guidance counsellor at Westwood Collegiate sealed the deal by pointing him to the RRC program.
“She said, ‘You can get this degree at Red River College for construction management.’ It’s not a certificate; it’s not a diploma; it’s an actual degree, and that was really attractive to me.”
His father and mother Tamara, a palliative care consultant, influenced his decision. They both hold master’s degrees and put a high value on education.
“It was just a good fit. I decided to try it out. It was still a relatively new program so there was no waiting list or anything like that. I got right in and I really enjoyed the program.”
Wells got a summer job in construction right out of high school and entered the four-year RRC program that fall, learning about all aspects of construction management, from safety and surveying to estimating and structural analysis.
“The first year was eight months of school and then we’d do a six-month co-op and come back for six months, and rinse and repeat. That was the best — you get the full swing of construction in the summertime and then in the winter when it kind of slows down a bit we’d go back to school,” he says.
“That’s easily my favourite part of the program, just the structuring of it.”
Along with reinforcing the knowledge he picked up in class, his three co-op placements — as a concrete tester with National Testing, a labourer with Alpha Masonry and junior superintendent with Concord Projects — gave him well-rounded hands-on experience.
“Concrete’s a huge part of construction so I wanted to make sure I had an understanding of that,” he says.
“And I wanted to get the boots-on-the-ground experience because I’m a young guy and there’s a lot of older gentlemen who kind of look down on younger guys in management roles. Experience plays a big part in construction, so I wanted to make sure I had some hours on the tools and whatnot. And then I wanted to see what the management side was like and get an idea of that.”
While he expects to work on sites across the city in years to come, Wells appreciates some of the small perks of his current job — easy access to the Tim Hortons outlet inside the college, and free parking on the job site outside. And he’s come to appreciate the big-picture aspects, too.
“When the job is picking up and people are getting along and the building is going together, it’s a really good feeling to be part of something that’s going to be here for a couple of decades at least,” he says.
Some day, when he has kids of his own, he’ll be able to point out the STTC and MotiveLab and say, “I built that.”
“That was another thing that my dad did. We’d be in the car together and we’d pass a building and he’d say something about that project that he was on, and that would happen all the time and I thought that was pretty cool.”
Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)