Construction Managers Build a Solid Future The Buzz


The construction industry always sees a lot of activity. The amount of housing and commercial construction rises and falls according to different factors, and it's hard to predict what will happen next. But one thing is certain: the industry will continue to need qualified workers. And the need is particularly strong for construction managers.

"There is a real need in our company and the commercial construction industry generally, for highly skilled and experienced project engineers, project managers, superintendents and pre-construction managers," says Jim Carabell. He works for Sundt Construction, Inc. in Arizona.

Carabell says that a shortage of these individuals might keep some construction companies from taking on certain additional work. That might prevent those companies from growing as much as they otherwise could.

The shortage of these construction managers is due to many factors. For one thing, it can take years of training and experience to qualify for a construction manager position.

"These individuals do not fall from trees," says Carabell. "They are developed through educational and work experience over the years."

As with many professions, the construction industry is also facing shortages due to the baby boomers retiring.

"Part of the reason for the shortage is demographic," points out Jeff Morrison, who works for a construction association. "This will put a big strain on the supply of experienced managers. The industry has also ridden a wave of at least eight years of strong economic growth, which has increased the demand for experienced and competent managers."

"Many construction managers with the experience and knowledge to manage these complex projects are nearing retirement," agrees Bruce D'Agostino, executive director of the Construction Management Association of America. "Their departure from the workforce will only increase the demand for these professionals."

Students are often not aware of all the opportunities in construction. Some in the industry say teachers and guidance counselors aren't always aware, either.

"For whatever reasons -- probably social -- schools and their counselors have regarded construction in general as a 'fallback' occupation." says John Hiebert. He is the president of a construction management firm.

The industry has responded with a variety of programs to attract students into the profession.

"The industry, having recognized this problem several years ago, has undertaken an effort to market what construction does," Hiebert explains. "They do this by [going to] schools to explain the benefits of careers in construction to Grade 9 students and to school counselors. There have been other ad campaigns showing young construction workers or managers in responsible positions."

With the right combination of education, training and experience, construction management can be a well-paying career option. Entry-level professionals can earn $50,000 to $60,000 annually. Work up to a higher-level management position and that salary doubles.

In order to reach that level, new employees should expect their education to continue on the job. "At our company, we have put into place a number of internal education programs, both formal and on-the-job, to help develop and prepare our entry-level engineers to be successful in these future career paths," says Carabell.

But to get on that path, potential construction managers require degrees in very specific fields, as well as training, experience and strong personal skills. Carabell's company, for example, looks for a civil engineering or construction management degree.

Mike Holland is the executive vice-president and CEO of the American Council for Construction Education. He says a reputable degree is what is needed to build the foundation for a construction management career.

"Be cautious," he warns. "Employment at this level requires a college education from an accredited program, not online training from a fast-talking school that will promise someone a degree in six months or for $2,000, or a degree for the experience they have in life. There is a need for quality, educated people, not a quick solution."

Along with that education, potential construction managers also require a specific skill set. Basic computer skills, database management and communication skills are very important. Specific courses in areas like estimating, negotiating, scheduling and contract law are also valuable.

"People skills, business skills and computer skills, along with knowledge of architecture and engineering, are critical to a successful career in construction management," says D'Agostino. "These folks have great communication skills and are very sophisticated in the use of computer technology."

They are also in a position of tremendous opportunity. D'Agostino believes that 100 percent of graduates could have work before they even leave school. Because the need for qualified people is so great, nearly all positions are full time.

And the opportunities for women may be even greater. While only about 4 percent of students currently enrolled in construction management programs are women, the industry overall is looking at ways to increase that percentage. Carabell says that his company is "looking to attract and hire top-quality women to join our company." And his company is not alone.

"Attracting women and other underrepresented populations into the construction industry is a major goal of the industry, and can be a major tool in attracting new workers," says Morrison.

D'Agostino points out that there has been significant growth in the ranks of women construction managers over the past 10 years.

"This can be attributed to many firms and schools actively recruiting women and the development of some excellent networking and mentoring groups for these women," he explains.

A career as a construction manager can be rewarding for both genders. All indications point to strong growth in the industry, particularly in the commercial sector.

"Construction management has a strong future with many opportunities and little chance for outsourcing to another country," observes D'Agostino. "And with half the demand being met, there will be a strong hiring environment for many years."

Morrison still believes that the industry has a bright future. "With pending retirements and healthy growth forecast into the future, construction managers will be very much in demand," he says.

"Certainly in this part of the world there is a strong future ahead for construction managers and the associated professions and businesses," adds Hiebert. "Elsewhere, there has always been and will always be a need for the skills needed to build and manage the building of construction projects."

For Carabell, the appeal of using one's skills to work in construction is deceptively simple. "There are no two days alike in construction. And for those people who enjoy the thrill and pride of having a hand in creating a structure, there is no job more rewarding."

Links

Construction Management Association of America
Promotes professionalism and excellence in the profession

National Association of Women in Construction
Serving the interests of women in the industry