Highway Star: Municipal Engineering Technology program paved career path for RRC grad

Jillene Rodgers

Rising with the sun and working until dusk isn’t for everyone, but it’s right up Jillene Rodgers’ alley.

Since graduating from Red River College’s three-year Municipal Engineering Technology program last May, Rodgers, 23, has been spending quality time on a highway construction site in Portage la Prairie.

Putting in 14- and 16-hour days at her new job with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, Rodgers inspects asphalt and grades, and generally ensures contractors adhere to the highway department’s project plans, regulations, and guidelines.

“We do not actually do any of the physical labour, we just make sure the contractor does what we ask,” she says. “We want to make sure the contractor is following our rules and regulations, while staying within the budget.”

The best part of the job? Getting her fill of fresh air in the great outdoors and spending her days around big machinery. 

“I really like doing that kind of work. I’ve always been interested in working around machines and working outside all the time,” Rodgers says.

Growing up on a grain farm near MacGregor, Rodgers is used to long hours. She learned to drive a tractor at an early age, and she helps her dad, Ron, with any and all jobs that need to be done during the growing season, which runs parallel to Manitoba’s construction season.

By the time harvest came around this fall, the highway project was winding down, leaving her with more paperwork than roadwork. She was able to start her day job at 6 a.m., and then head out to the fields to run a combine until 10 p.m.

Rodgers says she’s often the only woman on a construction site, but that fact hasn’t posed a challenge. And while she was born with bilateral hearing loss — meaning she was deaf in both ears — she doesn’t consider that a challenge, either. She might ask a contractor to step away from noisy equipment to carry on a conversation, but she has two cochlear implants that allow her to hear.

Rodgers was one of the first Manitobans to get a cochlear implant when, at age three, she traveled to Ottawa for an eight-hour surgery. She was two when her hearing loss was discovered, and at the time, her parents were told she would never be able to learn how speak.

She says opting for the surgery required Ron and her mom, Carol, to take a leap of faith, and she’s thankful they did.

“When I had my first surgery, my parents didn’t have anyone to talk to about cochlear implants so they went out on a limb,” she says.

As a young child, she and her parents made regular trips to Winnipeg so she could have auditory-verbal therapy sessions at the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic. By the time she got her second cochlear implant, she was a young teen, excelling in hockey and other sports, as well as high-school academics.

After graduating from MacGregor Collegiate Institute in 2011, she attended the University of Manitoba for a year before she decided to shift from general studies to focus on a career in municipal engineering.

“I went to Winnipeg Technical College and I got my technical drafting certificate there, and then I transferred my courses to Red River.”

Courses such as Statics and Strength of Materials gave her a solid grounding in theory, while two summer co-op placements with Manitoba Infrastructure, in 2014 and 2015, provided hands-on experience. As she learned more about the day-to-day operations of a construction site, she was given more responsibility, and her supervisors were impressed enough to hold a full-time position for her so that she could start working right after graduation.

With all the overtime she banked this summer, Rodgers plans to embark on a new adventure this winter, travelling to South Africa to visit a friend and taking a solo trip to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

After that, there’s more hard work in her future as she climbs her career ladder — starting with a return to RRC to study project management.

— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)