Beyond Limitations: Patrick Krawec’s Inspiring Journey in Construction

At its core, the nature of the construction industry is fast-paced and ever-evolving. With its constant growth and transformation, this dynamic sector thrives on the skills and expertise of its workforce. Behind the scenes, a diverse array of talents fuels this remarkable industry, and among them are individuals with disabilities who bring their unique perspectives to the table, contributing to the industry’s success.

More than 6.2 million Canadians or about one in five (22%) of the population are living with one or more disabilities, according to Statistics Canada. This year, National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) is being recognized from May 28 to June 3. It is a time to celebrate the valuable contributions of Canadians with disabilities and promote accessibility and inclusion in Canada. In our latest interview, we spoke with VDC Designer, Patrick Krawec, to learn valuable insights about his journey into construction and his hope for the future of the industry.

Why construction? Can you tell us what sparked your interest or influenced your decision to consider a career in construction?

Growing up, I was always very hands-on. I was taught from a young age how to build and fix things. I spent most of my childhood in my father’s garage, tinkering on things and helping with household renovations. I knew early on that I wanted to be involved in the construction industry, I just wasn’t exactly sure in which field I wanted to make my contribution.

How has your career journey in construction been thus far? What important lessons have you learned?

Near the end of my high school career, a family friend recommended that I consider joining the Local 30 Sheet Metal Union and become a sheet metal apprentice. I followed this recommendation, which sparked my passion for the trade. I enjoyed my time working in the field, but I especially loved working in the shop, turning once flat sheets of metal into complex ductwork components that would then be sent to help build HVAC systems in hospitals, research laboratories, and automotive plants. During my time as a sheet metal apprentice, I worked for several exceptional companies including Modern Niagara

Unfortunately, in 2014 I was involved in an accident where I suffered a spinal cord injury. I spent a long time wondering if I would ever find meaningful work again. Luckily, I had people in my life who didn’t give up on me, and they encouraged me to take some courses to learn more about visual design, namely AutoCAD and Revit. Doing so landed me a job back with Modern Niagara in 2023. I am so happy to have been given the chance to work for the same company that was so good to me nearly a decade later.

As far as lessons, I have learned the importance of putting yourself out there, because if you do not ask for help, people may not realize you are looking for it. Also, we are capable of so much more than we sometimes give ourselves credit for; the human body has an incredible ability to adapt to even the most severe circumstances.

When did you join Modern Niagara and what does a typical day at work involve for you?

I first joined Modern Niagara in 2012 when I was a third-year sheet metal apprentice. Back then, my days consisted of operating the plasma table, fabricating fittings, assembling ductwork, and loading trucks. Now my day is very different. I get to come to an office and work at a desk on a computer designing blueprints that consist of the same sheet metal components that I once fabricated by hand.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

I find my role as a VDC Designer very engaging. I get to take my knowledge of sheet metal installation methods as well as their fabrication process to design the most cost effective and labour efficient ductwork layout possible. It is like putting together a puzzle that has 100 different variations, and it is my job to find the best one for the most number of people involved.

What do you think is the biggest barrier persons with disabilities face in the industry and why is creating an accessible and inclusive world so important?

I think retraining is a significant barrier that people with disabilities face, especially those of us who started in the trades and were injured. There is no how-to manual to follow when you suffer a catastrophic injury. However, I think with a little more education and guidance, those of us with prior field experience can find a role where our past expertise can be utilized.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of an inclusive, barrier-free world. People with disabilities are an increasingly large portion of the population. If people with disabilities are able to join the workforce and find meaningful employment, we can share our diverse set of skills and viewpoints.

What is your hope for the future of construction?

I hope the topic of barrier-free and wheelchair accessible homes becomes more of a priority during the development and design of new subdivisions and condominiums. More thought needs to be put towards the future, considering the aging population and the existence of people with disabilities. Finding a suitable place to live also plays an enormous role in our ability to contribute to the workforce.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become involved in construction?

Do some research, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and try to find something that you could take pride in doing. Remember that whatever aspect of construction you choose to work in doesn’t have to be what you do for the rest of your life. The construction industry is vast and there are ample opportunities to try different things and move around within the sector.

Modern Niagara is committed to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment as we continue our work in building critical infrastructure where Canadians live, learn, work, and heal.