She attended Shawsheen Valley Technical School with every intention of pursuing a career in medicine, but things took a slightly different turn. At Vo-Tech schools, freshman students must choose multiple industries of study, and then make the grade to continue on his or her favorite course. Unfortunately or not, depending on how you look at it, Jennie did not make the grade for the health track, but she more than shined in masonry, and her path was set.
With little encouragement from her parents at first, she said she knew it was the right way to go as she says “I could picture myself in masonry-it felt very natural.” Her courses included work in brick and blocks, learning how to set, plumb and level. But what really sparked her interest was the variety of intricate granite and stone work projects out there. She says she immediately recognized, “there is a level of creativity in this type of work that you can take pride in.”
In her junior and senior years, her shop teacher Robert Petrillo admired and continually encouraged that creative spark and worked to get her into Local 3. In the mean- time Jennie maintained excellent grades while working a paid co-op for a stone manufacturing company where she would be on the job site every other week, then back to class on the weeks between her co-op job. She said it was a great learning experience and would eventually give her a heads up on her class mates in her apprenticeship training.
When she graduated she worked for her Dad’s landscaping company and prepared for her Union application. Not to be intimidated, she said she entered a conference room for her interview with a “can do attitude”, knowing she could show them at any time what she is capable of. She says she still holds that attitude today because of the drive and passion she has to succeed. Unsurprisingly she was accepted into the Union and began her training in earnest at the Bricklayer & Allied Craftsmen Training Center. The 7 to 9 week program taught her on site fundamentals of tile mechanics and upon completion the union had her fully employed and working on her first real job site.
Since that time she has been very fortunate to have worked on 6 to 7 various job sites, and although it can be hard to leave one job for another, she said it’s also really great to constantly meet new people in the industry.
Most people would wonder what it’s like to be the only woman (many instances she is) working in a “man’s world”. Jennie says she very rarely has an issue. She says she is always ready to do the heavy work just as much as the guys, and has learned to keep her head up and go with the flow. She is never afraid to ask for help or advice and is quick to keep an open mind.
As for the compensation, well she does not have any school loans to pay off and as soon as she reached 1,000 hours in apprenticeship she can expect to make $40 to $50 per hour with full benefits. Her goal is to break the barrier and become the first woman Tile Setter and show the industry just what a woman can accomplish.
She occasionally goes back to her High School to share her experiences and encourage those who are considering a career in the trades. Jennie says further down the road she may go back and teach tile work once she’s vested.
One of her most proud accomplishments is the Millennium Tower. She worked there for one year with foreman Hank Murray, whom she shares was a great mentor and father figure to her. She says when she is in Boston and looking over the skyline she often thinks “This is Boston, we built this!”
We can be confident in the years to come we can all look at the Boston Skyline and know Jennie has contributed her skills and creativity in many locations through-out the city.
Thank you Jennie for sharing your story and supporting Building Women in Construction!