Careers in Construction Month: Trades, Tech and Management

One of the greatest misconceptions about careers in construction is that they’re one-dimensional.

In reality, the way that the industry is rapidly evolving, increased levels of specialization and technology have made formerly linear career paths more dynamic.

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore several of these paths, the flexibility within each and hear from a few experts on predictions for the future.

Today’s Construction Managers: Endless Options with Skills That Transcend

Construction is an incredibly complex process: architects, engineers and trade contractors have highly specialized roles in ensuring buildings are constructed safely and properly. However, without a team of construction managers, projects would lack flow, organization and the necessary efficiency that guarantees speed to market for clients.

Construction management professionals have strong communication skills, are detail-oriented and possess unrivaled organizational skills that allow them to plan complex project schedules spanning years. Clearly, these characteristics – whether developed though work experience, traditional education avenues or a combination of both – would prove extremely valuable in a variety of careers.

Many considering a career or degree program in construction may picture themselves working for a construction management firm or general contractor. However, if they enjoy the subject matter, but working for a large construction firm isn’t where they see themselves, they may decide against this path altogether. Robins & Morton Vice President of Operational Planning and Support, Mike Thompson, advises career-seekers to further explore the many opportunities a construction background can provide.

As a former adjunct professor at Auburn University’s McWhorter School of Building Science, Thompson often saw students grappling with the “what ifs” of post-graduation life. He said that it was common for students to go on to work for a variety of different market sectors outside of traditional construction management, including corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations. They often found work as project managers and facilities managers — the skills translated seamlessly.

“What I tried to do with my students when I was at Auburn was help them understand that [construction] is one of the largest industries in the world,” Thompson said. “For example, one of [my students] went to work for Yahoo, another went to a large electrical firm on the West Coast, several became codes officials, several started their own businesses. There’s a lot more to do than what you see on the surface.”

The Path Forward

Conveniently, there are multiple ways to get the training necessary to kick off a new career in construction management.

Depending on learning preferences and stage of life, some career seekers may choose to enroll in a university program. Robins & Morton’s Vice President of People and Development Aimee Comer said some prefer this approach as it can often fast-track career progression, allowing graduates to join the workforce at an advanced level.

“The best programs teach fundamentals in the classroom and also require co-operative education or internships to supplement field experience – marrying the two,” she said. “Even though university programs bring you in at a management level more quickly, there’s still a lot of learning to be done. It’s important to have a general knowledge of trades in a construction management role.”

Alternately, others may choose to gain more hands-on experience in the field first, building upon skills and knowledge to grow into a management position. Realizing a need to provide clearer, more direct routes for those interested in management, many companies offer in-house education programs to support career progression.

The Rocky McMichen Field Leadership Program at Robins & Morton is one such program. It allows craft professionals who wish to move into a management role to apply and enroll in a 15-month training program. Once they graduate, they qualify to move into a foreman or assistant superintendent role.

A unique feature of Robins & Morton’s program is that it combines a curriculum with mentorship. This helps trainees learn new skills, while creating a support system for applying those skills in practice – a significant benefit in a fast-paced, ever-evolving industry.

“There’s a volume of knowledge you’re able to retain when you elevate employees from within,” Comer said. “They understand your culture, safety processes, and the level of professionalism that’s expected. Here, at Robins & Morton, we especially value that, and we’re committed to growing our people. Nearly all of our operational leadership started at Robins & Morton at an entry-level position.”

Although there are suggested routes and career paths, no one’s journey is the same, but Comer said that flexibility is what makes the future bright in the industry.

“There are so many directions this industry can take you, and those paths are only becoming more diverse,” Comer said. “Also, it’s impossible for construction to ever go away. We’ll always have a need for structures – for people to live, work and learn in. How we build may change, but we’ll always have a need for the people who lead projects. The life of the industry will always remain.”