Erin Reidy and Stephen Schuette, Construction Managers
Although they may hold a variety
of job titles, construction managers plan and direct construction projects.
They may be may be owners or salaried employees of a construction management
or contracting firm, or work under contract or as a salaried employee of
the owner, developer, contractor, or management firm overseeing the construction
project. They typically schedule and coordinate all design and construction
processes including the selection, hiring, and oversight of specialty subcontractors.
On large projects, construction
managers may work for a general contractor, which is the firm with overall
responsibility for all activities. There they oversee the completion of
all construction in accordance with the engineer or architect's drawings
and specifications and prevailing building codes. On small projects, such
as remodeling a home, a self-employed construction manager or skilled trades
worker who directs and oversees employees is often referred to as the construction
Large construction projects,
such as an office building or industrial complex, are too complicated for
one person to manage. These projects are divided into many segments. Construction
managers may work as part of a team or be in charge of one or more of these
Construction managers evaluate
various construction methods and determine the most cost-effective plan
and schedule. They are responsible for obtaining all necessary permits
and licenses and, depending upon the contractual arrangements, direct or
monitor compliance with building and safety codes and other regulations.
They may have several subordinates, such as assistant managers or superintendents,
field engineers, or crew supervisors, reporting to them.
Construction managers regularly
review engineering and architectural drawings and specifications to monitor
progress and ensure compliance with plans and specifications. They track
and control construction costs to avoid cost overruns. Based upon direct
observation and reports by subordinate supervisors, managers may prepare
daily reports of progress and requirements for labor, material, and machinery
and equipment at the construction site. They meet regularly with owners,
subcontractors, architects, and other design professionals to monitor and
coordinate all phases of the construction project.
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In a way, Erin Reidy began preparing
for her job as a little girl. She says she was always "drawing houses,
that sort of thing" and liked to build forts. She dreamed at first about
becoming an architect. But as she grew older, Reidy came to realize that
she "didn't like the idea of sitting behind a desk drawing all day." So
at her parents suggestion, she entered Purdue-Calumet
University in Hammond, Indiana, as a first step because of its construction
technology program. She became hooked.
Reidy has been working as
an Assistant Project Engineer for Turner Construction Co. since graduating
in June 1999. At the time of our interview, she was working on a five-
story office building in Oak Brook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. This
is the third project she has worked on since joining Turner, which is one
of the country's largest builders.
As a recent college graduate,
we were interested in learning what insights she could offer to prospective
students of construction management and technology.
What is unique about a
degree in Construction Technology?
It's really a combination
of construction management and engineering. You take a lot of courses in
structural engineering, but not all of the science and math courses that
an engineering student would take. For example, I had two years of calculus
and physics, where an engineering major would have to take more than two
years. You also take a lot of management and operations courses.
What about preparation
in high school?
If I could do it over again,
I probably would have taken more math courses in high school. I also would
have taken more English composition. Everybody should write for four years
during high school -- you can't have too much writing experience. I took
too much English literature, which was not that helpful.
Tell us about your job.
First of all, I start my
day a lot earlier than I ever thought I would. The building trades like
to start early, basically as soon as the sun comes up. Everything that
goes into the construction of a building has to be approved, so a lot of
my job as an assistant project engineer is to push issues through to the
architect for approval.
What I like about the job
is that I'm never in a rut. There is always some new challenge to overcome,
not the same old thing. It's like the sign in our office says: "If nothing
ever went wrong, we'd be out of a job."
It gets a little hectic at
times, particularly as projects get close to completion and you are trying
to cram four weeks of work into one. One of my earlier projects, a school
construction job, was more hectic. With school jobs you are trying to cram
six months of work into three, and you have to get it done. The students
are coming back to school in the fall no matter what.
Any negatives about the
Well, if you don't like getting
up early, or don't like the cold -- at least its cold here in Chicago --
then don't come into this field.
One finally question.
Most people would probably consider construction management to be a man's
job. What advise do you have for other women?
I don't think girls should
be dissuaded from coming into this field at all. I anticipated that there
might be some issues, but everyone I've met is really very nice.
A grimy construction site is
no place for an executive, right? Not necessarily. In fact, if you dig
a little, you may even find the field has a few college professors like
Purdue University professor Stephen Schuette. Now head of the university's
building construction management department, Schuette has spent 30 years
making his living in construction.
"A common misconception is
that construction is a dirty, thankless job with a bunch of people working
in mudholes," says Schuette. But a decade as a construction manager and
an additional 17 years teaching his job to others has taught Schuette another
side, one he loves to spring on his students.
"(Purdue) has computer programs
that develop the cost as we draw lines of a building on the screen. We
can take instant photos of projects hundreds of miles away and bring them
up on our Web site," he says.
Still, it's the students
who "used to have the best piles of sand in the sandbox" who tend to excel,
he observes. Dirt lovers just need to keep an open mind about changes technology
So, what is construction
management really like? Schuette took some time away from his classroom
schedule to roll up his sleeves and, well, give us the real dirt on a career
nowadays in construction management.
If construction managers
don't dig ditches, what do they do?
A construction manager is
a person in charge of a building project, and may handle four or five projects
at once. Some companies also call this person a project manager. They're
the person in charge of getting things built on time and within budget.
For nine years, I was a construction manager for a commercial firm in Illinois
that handled construction of commercial buildings like schools, banks and
shopping centers. I was in charge of about six estimators, or people who
determine the financial costs of a building project before a company builds
Do you need a college
degree to become one?
You need a bachelor of science
degree from a four-year college, with a program accredited by the American
Council for Construction Education. There are 47 accredited programs nationwide.
Isn't it dirty work?
It can be if you want to
learn the ropes from the ground up. My father owned a construction company
and I worked as a construction laborer through high school and college.
It wasn't the toughest labor, but by the time I got to college I was handling
Construction is not like
it used to be back when large dams were being built. The way construction
firms have to get jobs and the wide use of computers and new technology
like lazer-guided bulldozers has changed the kinds of jobs available. There
are opportunities to be business people, handling communications and estimating
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| Reidy Interview |
According to the Occupational
Outlook Handbook published by the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, persons interested in becoming a construction
manager need a solid background in building science, business, and management,
as well as related work experience within the construction industry. You
should be able to understand contracts, plans, and specifications, and
be knowledgeable about construction methods, materials, and regulations.
Familiarity with computers and software programs for job costing, scheduling,
and estimating is increasingly important.
Traditionally, people advanced
to construction management positions after having substantial experience
as construction craft workers - for example, as carpenters, masons, plumbers,
or electricians - or after having worked as construction supervisors or
as owners of independent specialty contracting firms overseeing workers
in one or more construction trades. However, more and more employers -
particularly, large construction firms - want to hire individuals who combine
industry work experience with a bachelor's degree in construction or building
science or construction management.
In 1996, over 100 colleges
and universities offered four-year degree programs in construction management
or construction science. These programs include courses in project control
and development, site planning, design, construction methods, construction
materials, value analysis, cost estimating, scheduling, contract administration,
accounting, business and financial management, building codes and standards,
inspection procedures, engineering and architectural sciences, mathematics,
statistics, and information technology. Graduates from four-year degree
programs are usually hired as assistants to project managers, field engineers,
schedulers, or cost estimators.
Around 30 colleges and universities
offer a master's degree program in construction management or construction
science, and at least two offer a Ph.D. in the field. Master's degree recipients,
especially those with work experience in construction, typically become
construction managers in very large construction or construction management
A number of two-year colleges
throughout the country offer construction management or construction technology
Both the American
Institute of Constructors (AIC) and the Construction
Management Association of America (CMA) have established voluntary
certification programs for construction professionals. Both programs' requirements
combine written examinations with verification of professional experience.
AIC awards the designations Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional
Constructor (CPC) to candidates who meet the requirements and pass appropriate
construction examinations. CMA awards the designation Certified Construction
Manager (CCM) to practitioners who meet the requirements, complete a professional
construction management "capstone" course, and pass a technical examination.
Although certification is
not required to work in the construction industry, voluntary certification
can be valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience.
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Employment of construction managers
is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through
the year 2006, as the level of construction activity and complexity of
construction projects continues to grow.
The increasing complexity
of construction projects should increase demand for management level personnel
within the construction industry, as sophisticated technology and the proliferation
of laws setting standards for buildings and construction materials, worker
safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protection have further complicated
the construction process.
Advances in building materials
and construction methods and the growing number of multipurpose buildings,
electronically operated "smart" buildings, and energy-efficient structures
will further add to the demand for more construction managers. However,
employment of construction managers can be sensitive to the short-term
nature of many construction projects and cyclical fluctuations in construction
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And The Pay...
Earnings of salaried construction
managers and incomes of self-employed independent construction contractors
vary depending upon the size and nature of the construction project, its
geographic location, and economic conditions.
According to a 1997 salary
survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's
degree candidates with degrees in the field of construction management
received offers averaging $28,060 a year.
Bachelor's degree candidates
with degrees in the field of construction science received offers averaging
$31,949 a year. Based on limited information, the Occupational Outlook
Handbook reports the average salary for experienced construction managers
in 1996 ranged from around $40,000 to $100,000 annually.
Many salaried construction
managers receive benefits such as bonuses, use of company motor vehicles,
paid vacations, and life and health insurance.