Construction may seem like a non-traditional field for many women, but to Carla Smith construction is part of the family. The president of Nanaimo-based CMF Construction grew up in the construction business. Smith’s father, Gordon Carlson, started the business and her three brothers are involved in the Carlson Group of Companies in Vancouver.
Carla knew from the time she graduated from high school that construction was in her future. After studying civil and structural engineering at BCIT where only four out of 72 students were female, she went to work for a different construction company on Vancouver Island that was involved in a large bridge project. She later took her bridge-building knowledge to the family business, gradually moving up the ranks over the past 20 years.
During that time CMF has grown into a major general contracting company with over 18 regular employees and the ability to take on large projects like the 72,000-square-foot $24-million emergency room addition at Nanaimo General Hospital. Current projects include exterior work at the CFB Comox airplane hangar and a Ministry of Transportation bridge in Gold River.
While women still make up a minority of construction workers, Carla says their numbers are growing. “Female carpenters and electricians are becoming more common. I also noticed recently at a construction site that four out of nine project managers procuring the job are female. I’ve never seen that before.”
Carla supports women in the construction industry by chairing the Nanaimo chapter of Women in Construction, supported by the Vancouver Island Construction Association. The goal is to increase female participation in the construction sector – an important sector within the province.
“It’s a business network for women to learn from each other’s experiences. We get 25 to 30 women coming out to events from a mixture of backgrounds.” The group is in the early stages of working with Vancouver Island University to find ways to encourage girls to get into the trades.
“There’s lots of work in construction and the industry needs the diversity that comes from different perspectives. Girls need to know construction is an option and that they can make good money. But they need to have a strong passion for building and construction.”