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Welcome back to the second episode of The Perlo Podcast with host Elissa Looney, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Perlo Construction. In order to shine a light on careers in construction management, Elissa is joined by Whitney Peterson, Project Manager; Chris McInroe, Project Director; and Broc Van Vleet, Senior Estimator to find out just how gratifying these careers can be.
Like all career paths, there is a fine balance between challenges and opportunities. However, a career in construction management is not a path that many young people are exposed to. Statistics from Indeed.com show that the US currently has over 5,600 openings in construction project management careers, making it the perfect time to pursue this career path.
A Typical “Day in the Life”
There is a common theme among careers in construction management: no day is ever the same. There is a constant need for coordination, whether that be with subcontractors, owners, scheduling, or procurement.
Chris notes that every day typically starts out with a “script”. There may be meetings to attend and items to accomplish, but inevitably, you’ll get a curveball. It requires you to be flexible and have good communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. It is crucial that you have those skills to be on top of your game and get the critical items finished to get back on track.
Broc is on the preconstruction side of project management and deals heavily with subcontractors and their fielding questions, answering design intent, coordinating with design teams on bids, working on budgets, reviewing quotes, and attending preconstruction design meetings.
Interesting and Challenging Aspects of Construction Management
According to Broc, the most interesting part of his job is that everything is different. Each project holds its own set of challenges and there is always a new landscape to be creative and find new ways to solve problems.
You can never truly know everything in construction, and Chris believes that although you’re always building your skill set, there is never a shortage of learning opportunities. There are always new software programs emerging, new relationships to build, and new requirements for projects. While this makes the job both interesting and challenging, it requires a certain level of stress-management and multitasking.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the supply shortages it has caused, Whitney is always on her toes trying to find information for the best ways to solve a problem and improve. Nowadays, there are more projects available, but the sites are more challenging and they are wanted in tighter timelines.
Comparing and Contrasting Careers
When comparing and contrasting different careers in construction, there is overlap in positions like estimating and project management. In estimating, there is more of a quick turnaround, whereas on the project management side, the process is often more drawn-out and can even take place over multiple years. Broc states that you have to be able to understand both the estimating and project management aspects of construction to be successful.
A lot of what we do in construction is reactionary. However, you can only react well if it was planned out well in the first place. We spend a lot of time on the preconstruction side so that we can react when a curveball is thrown. It’s not a matter of if a curveball is thrown, it’s when.
Hard skills in the industry, especially on the estimating side, include working heavily with numbers. Broc notes that he works with various excel files, bid reviews, calculations, estimate sheets, and more. Chris strongly believes in “double-checking” your work and that having that skill ensures things are done right. Soft skills are arguably just as important, as you need to be able to adapt and move quickly with the changing times. Being dedicated, driven, disciplined, a good team member, and a self-starter are among just a few of the soft skills you need to be able to succeed in the industry.
Whitney notes that although it isn’t recognized as often, there is a fair amount of writing that is required. With contracts, project purchase orders, and proposals, there is a lot of double-checking that takes place. Clarity is key, and it’s crucial to be able to describe to the client what they can expect to ensure the highest quality experience.
Career Path Origins
Whitney got her degree in journalism and mass communications, but following an internship in that field, realized it was not her desired career path. She started at Perlo as a Subcontractor Coordinator and worked in the Estimating Department. One of the co-owners of Perlo, Gayland Looney, recognized Whitney’s talents in organization and communication. He encouraged Whitney to take on the role of Project Manager, noting that you don’t necessarily need a degree in the field to be successful.
Chris started on his career path in high school when he participated in the creation of his school’s time-capsule. In this time-capsule, he wrote that one day he would be the owner of a construction company. The seed was planted early for him, and he later went to Oregon State University and was pulled toward Construction Engineering Management (CEM). He then had the opportunity to intern at Perlo and took an offer for a full-time position.
Broc’s dad is a retired structural engineer, so he was exposed to construction from the design side very early. Starting at Oregon State University in Civil Engineering, he realized it wasn’t the path he wanted to follow and later found the CEM program as well.
Favorite Stories, Relationships, and Opportunities
Chris’ favorite job was for Lam Research. He was approached with an extremely tight timeline on a 3-story build-out. It needed to be completed in 3 months, and everyone said it wasn’t possible. Chris knew that failure was not an option and, while it was a crazy process, he managed to pull it off and gain a repeat client.
Whitney’s favorite aspect of the job are the relationships she’s built, both inside and outside the company. Elissa notes that her favorite experience was when she was working for a bread company and got fresh bread at every meeting she attended!
For Chris, the camaraderie and team spirit that is shown during Perlo culture events gives you the opportunity to bond outside of the normal workplace, and he emphasizes that there is always a balance between work and fun.
Whitney states that her fulfillment comes from being able to train and mentor Project Engineers and Project Managers. Seeing them grow and develop year by year is what makes Whitney want to get up every morning. Elissa agrees and notes that mentoring people really makes you realize how much knowledge you’ve gained in your career.
Broc’s fulfillment comes from the variety of projects he sees on a daily basis and the support he receives from his team. The extracurriculars and team building at Perlo are what make each day worthwhile. Elissa remarks that it’s important to break up work with fun to make our days more enjoyable and productive. Once you are able to step back from something, it gives you the opportunity to think of new solutions to problems. The power of teamwork and help from others is what pushes you forward.
If you are in a position to pick up an internship, it is an outstanding way for both you and the company in question to have a trial. By the end of your internship, you’ll have a great idea of whether or not that career path is for you. Whitney also noted that talking to people in the industry and getting your foot in the door is crucial.
To Chris, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, so it’s important to define those relationships. The most essential part is finding your passion and aligning your career with that.
If there is one thing Elissa has learned, it’s that people like to talk about what they do and how they do it. There is no better compliment than asking someone about their job, so if you get a chance to have an informational interview, most people are going to be more than happy to offer their experience. There are also many organizations in the industry that work to expose kids to careers in the industry, as well as schools that are incorporating more technical courses in their curriculum, such as welding. Just reach out!
It might be overwhelming when you first come into this career path, but you have to stay humble to earn respect and trust. There is definitely a career progression, but it all comes down to how badly you want something and how hard you’re willing to work. In this industry, the sky is the limit and the future is at your fingertips if you really want it.
Elissa: “Final question: rapid fire. Would you encourage your children to go into your line of work?”
Elissa: Yes, all around!