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Youth manager movement at Clifford Restoration

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by Dan O'Reilly

Although there is no way of knowing for sure, a seven-member contingent of Clifford Restoration Limited project managers and coordinators may possibly be the youngest mid-level product management team of any construction company.
Sean Leigh, Alessandria Trigila, Robert Laurie, Luke Belfontaine, Shawn Paterson, Daniel Lima and Andrew Di Paola are the face of a new generation at Clifford Restoration. However, they emphasize there is no generational split at the company.
Sean Leigh, Alessandria Trigila, Robert Laurie, Luke Belfontaine, Shawn Paterson, Daniel Lima and Andrew Di Paola are the face of a new generation at Clifford Restoration. However, they emphasize there is no generational split at the company. - Photo: DAN O'REILLY

The oldest of the group is project manager Luke Belfontaine who just turned 36. The others range in age from 25 to 32.

They include project managers Sean Leigh, 32, Robert Laurie, 30, Daniel Lima, 29, and project coordinators Shawn Paterson, 25, Andrew Di Paola, 26, and Alessandria Trigila, also 26.

At one of their Friday morning internal coordination meetings — which is one of the few times they all come together — they shared their stories and explained why they like what they're doing.

A common theme which emerged during the meeting is the absence of a 'generational split' between them and the Toronto-based company's more senior and older managers and supervisors.

"We are learning from the older generations by working closely with them on projects to help gain the understanding and skills needed to carry out a quality restoration project," says Trigila.

Other methods where transfer of knowledge occurs are through site visits to other projects and a collective sharing of ideas and information in office meetings, she says.

"There is always someone willing to help you out with a question you may have. This might be senior managers, estimators, or even someone in administration," says Trigila, noting the young project managers/coordinators are taught to learn from their mistakes.

As a university student, Trigila spent her summers working for Clifford in a variety of capacities and then joined the firm full-time just over two years ago. She completed the construction project management program at George Brown College and is currently enrolled in University of Toronto courses to obtain her project management professional certification.

In some ways the backgrounds and experiences of the seven are parallel. Most have some form of post-secondary education and many worked with other construction companies before joining Clifford. A few also come from construction families.

That is certainly the case with Daniel Lima who really does represent a second generation. His father was a former partner, and many uncles and cousins are Clifford employees. Also a graduate of George Brown's construction project management program, Lima's focus is new construction unlike the others who are more geared to restoration.

"My father was in construction," says Leigh, in explaining on some of the factors why he entered the industry.

While working in the new home construction and building supply sector, Leigh developed an interest in heritage restoration. After completing the Toronto Construction Association's estimating and blueprint courses, he began his career as an estimator with another firm in 2012, subsequently joining Clifford the following year.

"I enjoy working in the heritage building restoration field as it presents different challenges daily," he says.

A passion for preserving heritage buildings also drives Laurie, who has managed some of Clifford's high-profile projects including Casa Loma, 100 Adelaide Street West, and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant.

"You're dealing with different mortars, mix designs, colours, and other elements."

Laurie's began as a rough carpenter in residential housing right after high school. Having decided he wanted to manage larger projects, he went back to school, completing George Brown's two-year architectural technician course and then the college's construction management and engineering program.

A similar desire to change from residential construction to the commercial side was the catalyst for Belfontaine to study construction project management at George Brown at night, while working during the day. He graduated in 2010 and started with Clifford as a project coordinator the same year.

Taking technical and shop classes in high school helped nurture Di Paola's interest in buildings, design, and cityscapes and interest in a possible construction or engineering career.

"Having researched the benefits of a college degree over university, I enrolled at Niagara College in the construction, engineering – architecture course."

Hired by Clifford in 2011, Di Paola's initial focus was estimating and managing waterproofing and concrete projects.

"Recently I branched out to (do) more restoration and new builds. Being exposed to so many different scopes of work has helped me to understand the industry as a whole as opposed to only working on specific divisions within the construction world."

The youngest and newest member is the 25-year old Paterson. A graduate of Ryerson University's bachelor of commerce and project management programs, and a stone journeyman, he has been a project coordinator for six months.

Also a former summer student worker for Clifford, he was hired full-time as a stone apprentice and learned various skills such as cutting stone, patch work, and Dutchman repairs.

"Having these hands-on experiences has allowed me to understand all the components necessary to complete certain aspects of restoration work."

Paterson's views on project management echo the comments of the other six.

"Project management has been an eye opening experience. It has provided me the opportunity to see all the things that have to happen in the background in order for others to see the physical outcome. I enjoy my days as a project coordinator because it isn't stagnant and every day possesses a new challenge."

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