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When the Student Becomes the Teacher - STO Building Group
While the construction industry has been notoriously slow to embrace change, the advent of construction technology, new legislation, and increasingly global project teams have highlighted the importance of education. Critically examining existing methodologies and looking for ways to advance do not always have to take place in a classroom—but a willingness to learn is integral in transforming the industry for the better.
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When the Student Becomes the Teacher

While the construction industry has been notoriously slow to embrace change, the advent of construction technology, new legislation, and increasingly global project teams have highlighted the importance of education. Critically examining existing methodologies and looking for ways to advance do not always have to take place in a classroom—but a willingness to learn is integral in transforming the industry for the better. Here Jennifer McCoy, Govan Brown’s national business process manager, discusses the role education has played in her professional journey and how she pays that forward to help her clients.

Can you speak a little bit about the evolution of your career at Govan Brown?
My career at Govan Brown began in the spring of 2008. I was employed with another GC in Toronto, and the year marked a major boom to the city’s construction industry. Govan Brown was competing for a large portion of the RBC Dexia project (830,000sf/$57M CDN) and reached out to see if I was interested in joining the team. The prospect of being part of an industry-leading team was too tempting to pass up. The project was coupled with the recent integration of CMiC. I was in a position to familiarize myself with this new reporting tool and took the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the platform. The project and the technology helped me gain a lot of experience in reporting, process development, contracts, and legal documentation, all of which have played a significant role in my career evolution. The seeds planted at that time have led to my growth and current role as a national business process manager.

What drove your decision to further your education while maintaining the demands of a senior position at the company?
I was transitioning into more of an operational role and was excited at the potential to apply all my learnings from my project management experience to improve business efficiencies across each of our offices, nationally. While I had a solid foundation, I felt a sense of responsibility to critically examine and be informed of the latest industry developments and business practices. Govan Brown definitely encourages continued education, and I felt certain that further education would support my new role. I enrolled at the University of Toronto, where I recently completed a 1.5-year Business Process Management Certificate. The course has helped me define my responsibilities and sparked a newfound enthusiasm. While committing to education at this stage could be daunting, I felt it was the right decision and spearheaded a major turning point in my professional career.

How has your role as a student influenced the way you operate in your day-to-day responsibilities at Govan Brown?
Some of the strategies of business process management are to see things from different perspectives and examine the relationships between unique branches of a company. Each individual role has a tremendous impact on the overall efficiency of a company. The coursework and classroom gave me the opportunity to see outside of my own experience. My classmates and I were attending the same course and learning the same theoretical content yet had such different practical applications of those teachings. I gained a more well-rounded perspective from just hearing other people’s challenges and points-of-view.

Conversely, you also have taken on the role of an educator within the industry at large. Can you walk us through that decision and what it entails?
2019 was a significant year in Ontario’s construction industry as major amendments to our Construction Act were introduced, including strict prompt payment legislation. I wanted to contribute to the industry and support my fellow colleagues in understanding how the Act would impact their business operations. My fluency in the new legislation, coupled with my educational path, primed me to help prepare designers, third-party PM groups, and others to ensure they are well-versed in the changes to payment schedules and understand the opaquer aspects of the laws. I conducted a series of workshops throughout the province and was engaged as a speaker at industry events to help inform the community of the upcoming legislative implications to our business. I also have partnered with JACO, Junior Achievement Central Ontario, which is a charitable organization that inspires and educates young people about business. It has been especially rewarding speaking directly to future generations about the impact that can be made through construction.

How has the dichotomy of being both student and teacher informed the way you learn and/or apply your knowledge?
One of the greatest strengths I have observed in the most effective teachers has been their approachability, and it’s the same quality that has helped me to flourish as a student. Being able to create an environment where people can contribute their ideas freely and be heard is essential in pushing the needle forward. As a business strategy, my education has given me an understanding of how critical each team member is to the greater good of the company. But it’s more than just a philosophy for me—I truly believe it. I have been able to apply this in training new and current employees on our systems and processes. As both a student and teacher, I am always open to having my ideas challenged and feel I have become a better listener and leader as a result.

What’s on the horizon for Jenn the student and teacher?
As Govan Brown continues to take on new markets and different construction sectors, and as our portfolio changes, I’ll continue to evolve with it. One thing that I love about this industry is that it continues to surprise me. As soon as you get comfortable, things change. I am fortunate to have spent a significant portion of my career with Govan Brown, and I believe in the brand and want the company to continue to be a leader in the industry. I wholeheartedly believe that Govan Brown is not simply what you do, it’s who you are, and that means pushing the boundaries of what is possible to set new standards and deliver exceptional service and spaces.