Jewelia Haynes comes from a big family.
The San Francisco resident credits her mother, father, and siblings with being her biggest motivators as she sought out a better life and a brighter path for her future.
Haynes currently works as an apprentice operator for Operator Engineers Local 3 Union. She operates construction equipment for A&B Construction, a heavy civil excavation and utility installation company currently working on a SFPUC project along 22nd and Illinois Streets in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, just a short commute from Haynes’ home.
“The experience so far has been great, honestly,” said Haynes. “I have already been on a lot of equipment as a first-step apprentice, which is really unheard of and very rare, so I’m amazed and proud to be a part of this company and this experience and this project that we’re on.”
But before becoming an operator, she was trying to figure out a new path for her life and was very surprised to find construction as a career.
“I’ve never seen this in my future at all, honestly, never,” said Haynes. “Even at a young age, you wouldn’t imagine half the things I’ve been through. I never thought construction was for women and I’m just happy that I am here. I’m happy that I’m making a stand and showing that, you know what, construction isn’t just a man thing. Women can do it too.”
She said it all started with a friend and a flyer.
Haynes credits a friend who works as a carpenter, who told her about the CityBuild program and gave her a flyer with information about an upcoming orientation. CityBuild, a department within the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), administers a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship training program called CityBuild Academy to San Francisco residents and has over 1,200 graduates since its inception in 2006. While in the program, she learned to weld, drove a forklift for the first time, and even earned her first forklift certification.
She said that it was the positive people in her life who kept her motivated and who were there to support her during the program.
“It was very no-nonsense,” said Haynes. “You couldn’t act up and you can’t be late. In construction it’s very important. It’s very important to be on time, and being on time is not being on time, it’s being 30 minutes early. Now, because of them I’m always the first person at my job sites.”
As a CityBuild graduate, Haynes is taking what she learned in the program and applying it to her new career in construction, operating an excavator and other heavy equipment on major projects throughout the City. Having started her career not long ago, she was careful to listen to the advice of her peers and coworkers in the field. One mentor in particular recommended she apply to become an operating engineer, where he knew there was a demand for local apprentices. Soon after, through coordinated efforts between OEWD CityBuild, the SFPUC, and Local 3, she was dispatched to the A&B project where everyone was confident Haynes would be a great fit. Although these experiences have set her on the right path for her career, Haynes has much bigger plans for her life and legacy.
Haynes dreams of rebuilding her family home that at one time belonged to her grandmother.
“The base is still good, and the foundation is really good but the house alone, it’s wood, it’s not doing the best,” said Haynes. “But with a little bit of my work and with help from my dad who is handy too, I know for sure I’ll be able to create a place where people can feel nice, safe, and comfortable.”
Haynes said that her experience with CityBuild and her journey in the construction industry on infrastructure projects like the SFPUC’s has already taught her valuable skills that she can take anywhere, but for her, family always comes first.
“I want to take what I learned with me back home because now I do projects every day. I see them turn nothing into the Chase Center, big empty lots into big nice buildings where people come to celebrate and watch games and have fun,” said Haynes, as she gets a bit emotional. “And that’s what I want to take back home with me. I want to make my home a family home where my family can come and celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthdays, and New Year’s, and stuff like that.”
For her, it’s about moving forward in her life and paying back the people who have been there for her the most. As a woman in the construction industry, she is hoping to blaze a new trail for other young women like her who are looking toward a better and brighter future.
“I had a lot of learning curves I had to get through and I moved around a lot to different areas, so just to be where I am now and for people to tell me, ‘Wow, you’re doing great, you’re amazing’ is just very shocking to me,” she laughed.
The SFPUC is committed to supporting the communities impacted by its operations. As the agency invests in its infrastructure, it is also investing in local, underserved communities by connecting youth and adults with learning, apprenticeship, job training, employment, and business opportunities. These programs support a strong, inclusive, local economy and a skilled, diverse, local workforce for today and tomorrow. Haynes is one of the many individuals the SFPUC has been able to assist and the agency is proud to share her story.
You can listen to Haynes share her own story here. There’s more work to be done and more opportunities ahead. To learn more, visit sfwater.org/workforce, sfwater.org/jobsreport and oewd.org/city-build.