Safety, teamwork shape former mason’s career

This article is one in a series of conversations with women leaders in the construction industry. Click here for past discussions.

When she first started her career as a cement mason, Jessica Gerlach was drawn to the physical aspect of the work and the satisfaction of seeing a project come together from start to finish. 

“There’s something incredibly fulfilling about the transformation that occurs when you take raw materials and turn them into something functional,” she said.

As she honed her skills in the field, she also realized that construction offered not only a livelihood but also a sense of pride in her craft and the opportunity to leave a lasting impact.

Now, as vice president of safety at McGough Construction, she oversees all aspects of safety management and compliance for the Minneapolis-area contractor. From developing comprehensive safety programs to leading a team of safety professionals, she is tasked with ensuring that every member of the team feels empowered to do the right thing regarding safety. 

Here, Gerlach talks with Construction Dive about technology, training and mitigating hazards.

This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What led you to choose construction safety for your career?

JESSICA GERLACH: I’ve always been deeply committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of others, and construction provides a unique opportunity to make a tangible difference in this regard. The dynamic and fast-paced nature of the industry, coupled with the chance to implement and enforce safety protocols that protect workers and the public, drew me to further my career in construction safety. 

The combination of my passion for craftsmanship and my dedication to safety ultimately led me to where I am today, working to create safer work environments for construction teams across various projects.

How do you do this in your current job?

Headshot of Jessica Gerlach

Jessica Gerlach

Permission granted by McGough Construction


At McGough, we prioritize safety innovations, implementing the latest technologies and practices to enhance worker protection. We also have a robust training plan in place, ensuring that every employee receives the necessary education and resources to work safely on our sites.

Additionally, I spearhead project safety planning, collaborating closely with project teams to identify and mitigate potential hazards before they occur.

Our company is headquartered in Minnesota, but our projects span across various regions throughout the country. This geographical diversity allows us to apply our expertise to a wide range of construction environments, making a positive impact on communities nationwide.

What are a few of the projects you’ve most enjoyed working on and why?

In my experience, I’ve found immense satisfaction in tackling complex projects that demand constant adaptation. What really drives me is when these projects prioritize innovation in safety practices. There’s a real sense of purpose in implementing new technologies or design strategies that enhance worker protection. 

One project that stands out to me is the RBC Gateway 40-story mixed-use project in Minneapolis. It presented unique challenges due to its scale and complexity, but through strategic planning and proactive safety measures, we could mitigate risks and ensure a safe working environment for everyone involved.

What benefits are there to working in construction?

Working in construction offers a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment, along with a strong sense of camaraderie and teamwork as we collaborate toward delivering quality projects safely and efficiently. 

Moreover, it provides opportunities for continuous learning and skill development, fostering growth and advancement in one’s career, whether through mastering new techniques or staying updated on industry standards and regulations.

What advice would you give to women considering construction as a career?

To women considering a career in construction, I would emphasize the importance of resilience, determination and self-confidence. While the industry may historically have been male-dominated, there’s a growing recognition of the valuable contributions that women bring to the table. 

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