UPDATE: Connie Smallman was named the winner in the Outstanding Craftswoman category.
As a young girl, Connie Smallman learned to use power tools and, with her dad’s help, built her very own dollhouse. Together, they built tree forts and go-carts, and that’s when she knew she wanted to work in construction.
In her early twenties, Smallman worked as a temporary bookkeeper for an excavating company and asked the owner if she could work in the field when the temporary job ended. After a couple of years she realized she could make twice as much money and receive better benefits as a union member. In 1989 she joined the Laborers Local 563 and met heavy equipment operators on the job.
“I told them I loved operating equipment, and they told me to apply to the IUOE Local 49 apprenticeship program,” Smallman said. “I applied the next winter during layoff and got accepted. It was the best decision I ever made! I still love working construction 35 years later.”
Her first job as a 49er was the I-394 freeway in the Twin Cities and involved operating a compactor, holding signs, picking rocks out of soil correction and laying ground-stabilization fabric. Every winter she signed up for classes at the Training Center and learned different types of equipment.
Currently she works as an operating engineer for Kraus-Anderson.
Smallman’s favorite part of the job is the physical activity involved in working construction and the opportunity to constantly learn new skills.
“The pay isn’t bad either,” she said.
She also takes pride in the work itself.
“As I travel around the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, I get to drive on the roads and bridges, see buildings, museums, commercial developments and residential neighborhoods, and visit our lakes and streams, while proudly saying I was a small part of making, building and preserving Minnesota,” Smallman said.
When asked about her most memorable work project, she recalls the Health Sciences Education Center at the University of Minnesota, where she had the opportunity to work alongside fifty other tradeswomen.
But Smallman’s work isn’t always on a job site. She also volunteers on several task forces, committees and councils and works to improve the working culture for all who choose a construction career. This year her efforts are being recognized by the Minneapolis-based publication Finance & Commerce, which has named her a finalist in its Top Women in Construction Awards in the category of Outstanding Craftswoman. The awards ceremony is Thursday, May 12, in Minneapolis.
Smallman said she hopes the award will “show my daughter, granddaughters and young girls or women of any age that if you want a career in construction, you can do it! You are needed, appreciated and valued.”
Her advice is simple: Be ready to learn, work hard and be on time. Many construction-based groups and committees offer resources and networking opportunities to help in your career, and it’s important to attend union meetings, become involved in union activities and take advantage of training opportunities whenever possible.
After 35 years in construction, Connie is grateful for all the friendships that have developed between her union brothers and sisters and for her family’s support for her “non-traditional” career. When she’s not out working as an operator or volunteering, Connie enjoys spending time with her friends and family and loves riding motorcycles.