The construction industry continues to be a huge source of high-wage jobs with over 10 million employees in the US alone. Careers in construction offer stability, room for advancement, and opportunities to work with new technology, among other benefits. With avenues comprising of both traditional and non-traditional jobs, the construction industry is growing and vibrant. The pathway to the construction field is not a “one-stop shop”. There are many different routes an individual can take to find success in this industry, from higher education programs and apprenticeships to falling into the industry unexpectedly. Today, we’re going to take a look at the different career paths to success in the construction field and hear from Bonnie Pillster, Subcontractor Relations Manager and Insurance Coordinator at Perlo Construction, about her path to success.
Opportunities in Construction
There are many different opportunities to advance within the construction industry, with a given business organization employing a wide ranging of positions from support staff and union laborers/craftspeople to upper management and potentially ownership.
As we outlined in our blog regarding finding purpose at work, a unique aspect of construction is that individuals with a variety of skillsets can be involved. A single general contracting firm like Perlo, for instance, employs many positions, which range from entry level to highly educated, such as:
Pathways to the Construction Field
While pathways can vary depending on the individual, we typically see people finding the construction industry through trade apprenticeships, higher education programs related to Engineering or Construction Engineering Management (CEM) or other management studies, and even by accident. For example, Bonnie describes her path to the construction field as something she fell into.
“I got into construction because my dad was in construction. I moved to Oregon to spend the summer with him, and he got me a job doing material procurement as a laborer in the labor union. Long story short, I never left.”
With the different sectors in the construction industry (residential housing construction, specialized industrial construction, institutional and commercial building, and infrastructure/heavy construction), it is no wonder that the possibilities are endless, and, that the avenues to get there are, too. Below are a few of the more common pathways to the success in the construction field:
A degree isn’t necessary or required for many roles in construction. Apprenticeships are great opportunities for those over the age of 16 that are looking for direct experience in the trades. Apprenticeships typically last between 1-4 years and consist of about 20% of your time in school and the other 80% on the job (while getting paid and receiving mentorship from an expert). This is a great alternative to higher education paths and provides a hands-on learning environment and certification as tradesperson.
There are also studies being done that show that union apprenticeships provide a more diverse construction industry, “showing not only do unions train more than 70% of all apprentices, but union apprenticeship programs were also significantly more diverse, and had much higher graduation rates for women and workers of color. Union apprenticeship programs were also far more successful placing workers into higher-paying jobs within the construction industry.”
The higher education pathway is one that has become increasingly popular with institutions putting a more significant focus on preparing students for in-demand careers, including those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). This option is typically chosen by those who want to go into management in the construction industry. Degree programs such as Construction Engineering Management (CEM) and Construction Technology are great options for those who want to advance in their careers. However, with the construction industry growing and many different job sectors becoming accessible, we are also seeing an influx of individuals with backgrounds in architecture, accounting, marketing/general business, and more.
Progress Up the Hierarchy
Reports show that the majority of people who are entering the construction industry are those who want to be there and see a future in their work. Progressing up the hierarchy is a common pathway to success in the industry for those who aren’t afraid of being flexible and putting in the work. Bonnie explains that she never considered specific paths in the industry, because the environment was changing so constantly that new opportunities were always opening up.
“After my first job doing material procurement, I was asked to be an escort driver at Portland International Airport. This meant I was responsible for escorting in subcontractors, deliveries, and other personnel down the airway to the airplanes. I later became an office manager at another PNW-based general contractor, which allowed me to come out of the field and become a salaried employee in the office,” says Bonnie.
“From there, I was asked to join the purchasing department where I would issue contracts, work with insurance, and oversee CCIP and OCIP. I then found myself at Perlo Construction, where I was asked by Devin Koopman, Perlo’s Vice President of Construction, “if there was one job you could create for yourself, what would it be?” I created the Subcontractor Relations Manager role at Perlo, before seeing a need in the insurance department and transitioning to where I am now.”
Important Skills to Progress in Construction
No matter which pathway you take into the construction industry, there are a few key skills that will lead you to success in your chosen field.
Succeeding in a construction career, let alone any career, requires a knack for communicating with your team members, clients, suppliers, leaders, and more. When we asked Bonnie what the most crucial skill to succeed in a construction career is, the answer was none other than “communication”.
“One of the things I liked when I first started in the labor union was going from project to project and constantly meeting new people. While being in the office is a bit different, I still enjoy communicating with different teams, departments, and projects,” remarks Bonnie.
Flexibility and openness to new ideas
Technology and demand in the construction industry are changing at exponential rates, so it is important to be flexible and adapt to different environments and needs.
“Be open to opportunities in different roles, because you never know where you might land,” suggests Bonnie. “Especially in an ever-changing environment, it’s important to be a universal employee.”
There are many different problems that can arise on a given construction project, such as weather delays, supply chain material shortages, theft in construction, and more. These problems require individuals who can use critical thinking skills to solve problems in unpredictable situations.