Education for project management


Construction Analytics Corporation

There is consensus that the project manager is one of the most important administrative/management positions in the construction industry in this country. Project managers are found throughout the industry, and their role continues to increase in importance.

It is easy to identify the project managers by their job title. It is, however, much more difficult to identify the project managers by their training, by their skills, or for that matter by the particular job tasks by which project managers must carry out their administrative/management responsibilities.

It is clear from the United States Department of Commerce publications and from other industry sources that the ranks of the construction industry project managers continue to grow. This growth is brought about by two separate factors. The first of these is the general expansion of the construction industry in terms of annual construction volume. The second is the increasing demand for competent handling of administrative/management detail within the industry.

The Research

The writings and research available both in industry and education reveal that little is actually known about project managers, their training, and their job task requirements or how these relate to their technical specialty. In order to provide some initial insights into these questions about project managers, a research project was undertaken by the author as part of a master’s degree program at the University of Maryland. This research project, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Donald Maley, Professor and Chairman, Department of Industrial Education, University of Maryland, College Park, required about one and one-half years to complete. It is believed to be the first attempt to formally investigate under academic discipline and constraints, the role of the project manager in construction.

Project Manager Profile

The research provided interesting and revealing data with respect to the project manager, his training, and his job tasks. For example, it revealed that the typical project manager in the Baltimore metropolitan area is between 35 and 40 years of age, has been in construction between 16 and 20 years, and has been a project manager between 5 and 10 years. It further revealed that about one-half of the project managers have journeyman level skills in some construction craft, that one in three had earned a Bachelor of Science degree, and that one-third of the Bachelor of Science degrees held by the project managers were in business administration (an unexpected finding).

Primary and Secondary Job Tasks

The research was designed to establish the primary job tasks of construction industry project managers and to examine the relationships existing between a project manager’s technical specialty, his formal training, and his job tasks. Each respondent was also asked to specify the exact content areas in his formal training from a listing of 43 subject areas.

The job tasks of construction industry project managers were examined in detail. A dual criteria was used for determining job task importance. The first criteria was the commonality of a particular job task among all project managers. The second criteria was the percentage of time expended by project managers on a particular job task. The analysis of the data received from the respondents indicated that there existed eight primary job tasks and ten secondary job tasks. The primary job tasks of project managers, listed in order of importance, are:

1. Field Supervision

2. Estimating and Bidding

3. Job Planning and Scheduling

4. Purchasing

5. Written communications

6. Expediting

7. Contract Administration

8. Inspection and Punch Lists

The ten secondary job tasks, also in order of importance, are:

9. Drawing Management

10. Contract Negotiations

11. Sales and Public Relations

12. Safety Management

13. Cost Accounting

14. Equipment Management

15. Design Work

16. Payroll Approvals

17. Accounts Payable

18. Accounts Receivable

The research techniques not only confirmed the validity and the rank order of these primary and secondary job tasks but also confirmed that these were, in fact, all of the job tasks of the respondents. The data also revealed that the respondents expended between 77% and 80% of their working time performing the eight primary job tasks and the remaining 20% to 23% of their time performing the ten secondary job tasks.

Comparisons Between Formal Training, Informal Training, and Job Tasks

The identification of the primary and secondary job tasks along with data on the content of formal training permitted a statistical correlation to be conducted between formal training, informal training, and job tasks. These correlations revealed a relatively low applicability of formal training to the job tasks of project managers. By comparison, informal training was found to be significantly more applicable to the job tasks of the respondents.

In comparing applicability of both formal training and informal training to job task skills, the responses were two-to-one in favor of informal training on all 18 job tasks, and better than three-to-one on the eight primary job tasks. Among the eight primary job tasks, some ratios were as high as ten-to-one in favor of informal training when compared to formal training as the source of job task skills. In fact, only one of the 18 jobs tasks listed, design work, had a ratio of responses favoring formal training over informal training. Design work is ranked 15th of 18 job tasks of project managers.

These studies also revealed a number of significant deficiencies in the training of construction industry project managers.

The formal training deficiencies of project managers as revealed by the data included the following:

Job Planning and Scheduling

Building Codes

Contract Administration

Critical Path Method

Construction Management

Cost Control

These findings should be of particular interest to every practicing project manager. Gaps in formal training can be filled by taking advantage of the training opportunities available.

Generalization of Findings

Many insights came to light as a result of the research. Of particular interest to the project manager practitioner are the following generalizations:

  1. There was found to be a major deficiency in the formal training of construction industry project managers with respect to the development of those particular skills which are required to effectively and professionally perform their job tasks.
  2. The more unique the job task to the role of the project manager, the more dependent the project manager was on informal training to develop job task skills and conversely the greater the formal training deficiency.

Technical Specialty

An additional part of the research was to examine the relationship between the project manager job tasks and his technical specialty. These comparisons of technical specialty to job task requirements revealed that about one-half of the job tasks which project managers are called upon to perform are not directly a part of their technical specialty. The significance of this discovery is to separate project management skills from technical specialty skills.

Further Study and Research Required

There are a number of conclusions which can be drawn from the research data which were not a part of the research problem These are worthwhile possibilities for further study and research.

In examining the training and background of the project manager respondents, it was apparent that there was no well defined entry route into the. position of project manager. There was no consistent entry level training specifically designed to prepare a person for the responsibilities and job tasks of a project manager. The data revealed that project manager candidates were drawn from a variety of peripheral specialties; such as craft and field supervision, design and engineering managers, business management and accounting. As the demand develops the need, these persons from other specialties are pressed into service as project managers. As a consequence, job task skills are developed by a combination of synthesizing of previous training and experience embellished with substantial quantities of imagination and innovation. The result is that the project manager job tasks and responsibilites are handled by wide variety of techniques and with varying degrees of skills and sophistication.

Appropriate recognition of the present processes in the development of project managers, coupled with the findings of this research, can lead both the experienced and aspiring project manager along productive and efficient lines preparing for or improving job task skills. While no general course of study in project management appears to be available, the identification of job task skills and the enumeration of job tasks given earlier will permit the acquisition of skills required through a wide variety of sources, principally junior and senior college curricula, adult education programs, and specialized industry training programs.

Project Management as a Distinct Specialty

Hopefully the time will come when project management will be recognized not only in construction but in the national economy as a distinct specialty, and degree programs will be developed leading to entry level skills.

In the meantime the project managers themselves, through professional associations such as the Project Management Institute, must take both the lead and the responsibility for further identification of job tasks and in pursuing training opportunities for the specific development of job task skills. While training and educational responsibilities have not yet been packaged in a convenient form, a review of the primary and secondary job tasks previously enumerated clearly indicates that a substantial portion of the job task skills required can be obtained through existing course work available throughout the country. This approach relates not only to developing new job task skills but in updating of old skills which address management and administrative tasks using contemporary techniques. The construction industry must also provide the opportunities for the continuing education and training of project managers with due recognition to current state of the art in project manager training and development. Industry must also allow appropriate time for the professional development of project managers so that the critical areas of responsibilities assigned to project managers may be carried out on an efficient and professional basis.

General Education is also Needed

It should be noted that the subject of the research concerned the job task skills of project managers. The development of job tasks skills should be eventually be an integral part of the general education of aspiring project managers; general education is essential in support of job task skill training.



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