From construction to engineering, technology has become a large part of the trades industry and, according to Mandy Rennehan, many tech-related jobs can now be referred to as a “blue-collar” careers. Rennehan runs Freshco, a full-service reconstruction and retail maintenance services company operating across North America with clients that include Apple, Restoration Hardware, Lululemon, Sephora and Tiffany & Co.
I asked Rennehan, an award-winning entrepreneur, philanthropist, trade industry ambassador, TED Talk contributor, and founder and CEO of Freshco, about her thoughts on how technology and construction have collided, and how the blue collar workforce is getting more and more involved in the delivery of tech-related services.
How did Rennehan get into the trades? And, what is the ‘Blue-Collar CEO’?
“I grew up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and left home with a dirty hockey bag full of everything I had, a big personality and a fascination for building,” replied Rennehan. “Freshco (not the grocery store) was established when I was 19 in Halifax as the “fresh company“ in the facility retail world of maintenance and construction. I was the only female CEO in the industry and to my knowledge I still am.”
“Two things I realized very early on in my career,” remarked Rennehan, “is how … society viewed the blue collar sector and how this perception had already started to create a massive skill trade shortage on both sides of the border. So Freshco [has] become a movement of ‘redefining the collar blue’ and changing the answer to ‘what do you want to be when you grow up.’ My role as Blue Collar CEO is to change the way people conventionally look at my role – as being white collar and historically male – while educating kids, teenagers and all adults, especially women, about the dynamic and rewarding career they can have in the trade industry.”
On top of challenging societal beliefs about trade labour and gender, technological advancements have meant that the trades and technology have collided.
Rennehan confirmed this by stating, “Not only have they collided, but they are collaborating in real time which is creating a massive paradigm shift. The trades have always been defined as very manual and “dirty “ in the past, which, to a degree, was true because technology was not really being optimized in the industry like it is today. Understanding the fundamentals of any trade blueprint is immanent and crucial, however training our trade professionals in today’s technology as a package, is vital for our more modernized ecosystem of construction initiatives.
I asked Rennehan to describe which trades have been most impacted by technology.
“Some very exciting trends,” began Rennehan, “that confirm this magical collision are robotics, semi-automated and automated construction equipment, prefabrication modularization, which is not new but technology is making the benefits easier to access, plus augmented reality and wearables, which have become very popular.”
“There is also the emergence of data ecosystems where all the innovative players in the industry are sharing knowledge and experience on a shared digital system, which is extremely helpful in training people and technology together quickly,” shared Rennehan.
Specifically in retail management, “we work off of multiple WO management systems, and have created many of our own to integrate with other systems for back of house efficiencies that are better than the norm in the industry,” explained Rennehan. “Human Augmentation has also become a useful tool in our business,” added Rennehan.
When I asked what she envisions for women in the trades and in STEM careers, Rennehan responded, “I have been a huge proponent for many years, forming initiatives with all levels of schools to encourage women in multiple areas of trades and STEM.”
“Women bring many different skillsets and leadership qualities to this [retail management and reconstruction] sector that have been recognized on a very small scale because of the feeling of, “do I really fit in here? How can I fit in here? Do they even want me here?”
Rennehan finished by stating, “Well, my company keeps demonstrating, “you fit perfectly and, not only that, you will be addicted, guaranteed”
Related: Women & Tech