ENR 2022 Top Young Professionals: Meet Skanska’s Justin Waguespack and Brooke Gemmell
This week, we’re celebrating the last two of six Skanska employees recognized as one of Engineering News-Record (ENR)’s 2022 regional Top Young Professionals. We sat down with Vice President, Operations Justin Waguespack and Emerging Technology Manager Brooke Gemmell who made ENR’s Northwest list. Brooke and Justin reflect on their most formative experiences and how Skanska’s values have challenged them to grow as industry leaders.
What is one Skanska project or opportunity that has shaped you most as a young professional in the construction industry?
Justin: My current project assignment on the Los Angeles Regional Connector has had the most influence on my career. With a current contract value at approximately $1.2 billion, it’s a mega turnkey project that features unique challenges and a wide spectrum of very technical aspects. How can one’s experience not grow exponentially working with such a broad range of staff, subcontractors and third parties?
Brooke: There’s nothing like “boots on the ground” experience. Before working in emerging technology, I spent a year as a project engineer on a new $10 million research building at the OHSU West Campus. That project provided me invaluable experience and built a foundation of construction knowledge that I reference daily. Additionally, that year, I went to every Skanska Young Professional (SYP) event happening in my region which added to my industry expertise, increased my exposure to project types and built my professional network—all of which have enabled me to better serve and support project teams as they explore new technology.
How have Skanska's values challenged you to grow as a leader?
Justin: Our Be Better - Together is a value we can always build on. Our people are our most valuable resource. With the increasingly diverse background of the teams we build, we can stand out from our competitors. Our values aren’t something we say, they’re something we do. I believe our clients and customers can see this in our product and processes. This challenge to constantly find better ways to utilize these strengths, helps fuel my drive to grow as a leader.
Brooke: I’ve always had a soft spot for Be Better - Together. This continually proves true, and I’ve seen so many incredible instances of Skanska employees coming together, all providing unique and diverse perspectives. As I build technology solutions and host innovation workshops, I actively look to include a broad spectrum of perspectives. I lean heavily on the knowledge and insights of our Skanska teams to uncover the biggest opportunities for process improvement and innovation.
What are some ways that you’ve given back to the construction industry or your local community?
Justin: In the rural area of northern Los Angeles County, there are many opportunities to help others. My family and I have made it a regular practice to be very deliberate in searching for ways to give back. We spend a few hours each month picking up trash, delivering food to those in need and donating resources to families with less.
Brooke: I spent two years on the programming team for the Portland Skanska Women’s Network (SWN) chapter. During this time, in addition to hosting networking events for Skanska employees, we hosted two Day of Discovery events for local middle schoolers to tour jobsites and learn about the construction industry. A highlight was our career panel where we had female industry professionals share stories and discuss how they ended up in a career they love.
Additionally, I’ve volunteered as an Architecture, Construction, Engineering (ACE) mentor, supporting high school students in learning more about our industry. I particularly enjoyed showcasing some of the innovative technologies we use at Skanska and seeing some wide eyes when the students tried on the HoloLens!
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from 2021 that you will carry into 2022?
Justin: Be ready for anything. In the second year of the pandemic, we’ve experienced a roller coaster of policy changes and health protocols, and there are still surprises. The impact on our industry, whether it be supply chain, shortage of goods, change in law or absentees has been beyond reasonable expectations and taught us all the importance of agility and planning.
Brooke: I’ve learned to value my mental health and support others in doing so as well. I’ve watched the stigmatization of asking for help disappear almost overnight, and learned that it’s okay to ask for help, even if you don’t feel like you’re struggling as much as others or like your problems aren’t big enough for therapy.
I’ve also learned that it’s never too late to chase your dreams. With social media creating an environment of comparison, it’s easy to feel behind, or like you’ve lost your opportunity to do something. There are always ways to course correct your life and start doing the things that fill you up and energize you. Maybe you’ll realize you had the opportunity to do them all along, you just didn’t see it that way. Or maybe you need to make a big change in your life. Whatever your situation, it’s never too late to start.
Finally, I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with getting takeout from the same restaurant every Friday night for a year (especially if it’s 24th and Meatballs).