Ask Isaac Orah what his day-to-day life is like in construction and within seconds you’ll understand how much he loves it. He’s been involved in numerous areas of the industry, working his way up both literally and figuratively to his current job as Project Manager with Graham Construction in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Isaac has been around construction his entire life. His father owned a general construction company, and from an early age Isaac knew there was something about it that drew him in. At the time, he didn’t know the difference between construction and engineering, only that the idea of building something from the ground up appealed to him.
Isaac moved to Canada when he was 16, and when it came time for post-secondary, he chose the engineering route and completed his Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Civil Engineering at the University of Manitoba. His main focus was gaining academic knowledge, but he also managed to build an impressive arsenal of practical experience while working jobs throughout school. From landscaping to a manufacturing plant to general contracting jobs to consulting firms, Isaac immersed himself in the world of construction.
“I got to touch numerous parts of the industry, and that helped me make a decision on where I felt I would thrive the most,” he says. “I was always trying to find the next fit, the next place that could be good for me. Having started with boots on the ground in the field, to working as an inspector, going from there to seeing more on the design side and now seeing the bigger picture, it all sort of connects. There’s a lot of knowledge gained from doing it and sometimes not getting it right, or learning from someone else’s experiences.”
In addition to his hands-on experience, Isaac also benefited from his program’s co-op component, which gave him access to a list of players in the industry that could help kickstart his career.
“Who’s doing engineering, who’s willing to take people on, that sort of thing,” Isaac explains. “Being an international student, you don’t have the same inherent knowledge. When you grow up [in Canada] and drive down the street, you get to know certain companies. I didn’t have that, so that’s where the co-op program really helped.”
The co-op program also had a job portal, where openings with companies who are specifically looking for co-op students—including Graham—were made available. Today, as a project manager, Isaac oversees billing, plan reviews, strategies sessions, adapting to changes on the fly, negotiations, building quotes, working with designers, and working with owners to make sure everyone on the project is aligned with the end goal. There’s a lot to do, but as Isaac puts it, “juggling is the name of the game and making sure nothing drops.”
With so many things to do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, Isaac has a hard time pinpointing exactly what his favourite element of his job is. All he knows is when a project comes together, there’s no better feeling.
“The feeling that I made this happen or I was instrumental in making this work, that’s what I enjoy the most,” he says. “When you actually see something come together, it’s a very rewarding feeling.”
If you’re trying to figure out if there’s a spot for you in construction, Isaac can almost guarantee there is.
“If you find more enjoyment in long-term, strategic planning, you’re good with numbers (budgeting, scheduling), and comfortable interacting with people, then there’s a really good chance you’d thrive in construction management,” he explains. “If you don’t like taking work home with you, field work is for you. Construction can offer great work-life balance.”
As for what’s next, Isaac is excited about where the industry is heading when it comes to technology.
“The industry is becoming a lot more sophisticated,” he says. “Every day there are more and more advanced tools that become available to use, not in just building but in managing the build. Right now we’re implementing more and more virtual design and using software to model ways of delivering a project from staging to site-layout to sequencing the work. That’s the most exciting part for me—the technology.”