Construction unemployment is historically low, which is excellent news for the economy but presents challenges for construction employers who need to fill an estimated 500,000 available jobs.
That means construction management students who are doing well in school essentially have their pick of employers. In fact, most students at The Ohio State University receive paid internship opportunities after completing one or two years of school and then receive full-time job offers up to nine months prior to graduation.
Hensel Phelps relies heavily on its summer internship program, typically geared toward college juniors, to find employees. “The summer internship is a two-way, three-month interview,” says Operations Manager David Brooke. “Is our company right for the employee, and is that employee right for our company?”
In Maryland, nearly 100 percent of Montgomery College construction management students receive job offers before graduation, and many of the companies front the bill thanks to competitive tuition reimbursement programs.
In Ohio, construction business is so robust that everyone’s looking for people, and starting salaries are $58,000 to $62,000 per year, according to Ohio State University (OSU) professor W. Mac Ware. “There are more inquiries about job opportunities than students to fill the need.”
A FOCUS ON COMPANY CULTURE
OSU is doing its best to prepare students for the unique employment environment to help them consider more than just a high salary. The construction management program includes a professional development course to inform students about qualities they should look for in an employer, including ensuring they are being set up for a career path and not just going to be overworked and burnt out.
When looking for a job, Florida International University student Adam Quinones zeroed in on company culture emphasizing comradery. “And also not too much of a top-down approach where upper management is viewed as a deity; instead they are partners there to help you,” he says.
Quinones found those qualities in Brasfield & Gorrie, a Birmingham, Alabama-based general contractor, where he is an assistant project manager while continuing his studies. “I could say I’m friends with some of the highest-ranking executives in the company, and they treat me as an equal,” Quinones says. “They give me the opportunity to excel on my own, which is big. I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who doesn’t trust me because I’m young.”
During interviews, students typically ask about a company’s culture, even before discussing salary. They are concerned about finding a company to grow with, challenge themselves and stay for the long term.
Hensel Phelps’ company culture is designed around just that. Nearly every employee—including all the executive board members and the company’s CEO—start at the entry level position and work their way up, spending time in the field and in the office.
Companies that have mastered these qualities still have to compete for talent, but they can be more selective about hiring the best of the best.
“Construction is a hard, but satisfying, industry. If you don’t have a passion for seeing buildings go up and being part of that process, you won’t be successful,” Brooke says. “All companies have strong training programs in place, so employees don’t have to understand all of the construction, but the ability and willingness to learn are key.”
Contractors also are looking for students who have strong interview and people skills. It’s not enough to excel at estimating or master BIM; students need to present themselves well and be able to work effectively on a team.
“When I was hiring students and interns, I was looking for personality over GPA,” says Ware, who co-owned a construction company prior to teaching at OSU. “I was looking at the applicant’s ability to get along with others and whether they articulated and presented themselves well or looked you in the eye during the interview.”