Project Career Moves: Construction

Want a career in construction that’s built to last? Focus on strong leadership, get ahead of the tech curve and show your appetite for learning.

A global pandemic. Raging inflation. The threat of a recession. A supply-chain logjam. Any one of those issues could have demolished careers in the construction industry—and yet, the world keeps building things at a steady pace. The global construction sector was projected to expand 3.7 percent in 2022. That pattern of growth and resilience amid headwinds is welcome news for project professionals looking to start, shift or advance their careers in construction. 

But make no mistake: A project management career in construction looks a lot different than it used to. Once viewed as an industry that clung to traditional and staid approaches, construction has evolved—and its project professionals need to do the same. To sustain a career advantage, project professionals in the construction industry need to develop next-gen skills, says Gary Hattle, PMP, project manager, Black & Veatch, Denver. 

Whether it’s mastering how data-driven insights can reduce risks or polishing power skills to empower the entire team, project professionals can future-proof their careers in the construction industry by upskilling with intention. Hattle says today’s forward-thinking construction project environment is less hierarchical than when his career began three decades ago, with companies eager to hire project professionals who can bolster a team mindset that’s both innovative and change-ready.

“It gives you more opportunity to show what you’re capable of,” he says. “Project professionals who do that little bit extra to shine won’t be pigeonholed and put in a box. But remember, everyone is looking to gain those advantages.”

Headshot of Gary Hattle

Gary Hattle, PMP, project manager, Black & Veatch

Amid a significant global labor shortage—with nearly half a million unfilled job openings in the United States alone, according to McKinsey—the construction industry’s demand for project talent remains high. Project management oriented employment for construction and manufacturing is expected to reach nearly than 61.5 million by 2030—a 13.2 percent increase, according to PMI’s most recent Talent Gap report.

Here are three moves project professionals can make to forge a career path in construction:

Reinforce Your Power Skills

Strong leadership is needed to motivate construction teams to be more productive. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the industry could add US$1.6 trillion in value by increasing productivity–enough to meet half the world’s infrastructure needs. But which power skills will help construction project managers turn vision into value? Hattle believes it’s best to focus on three:

  • Strengthening communication will reduce ambiguity across the team. That includes synthesizing a sponsor’s expectations to ensure all project work is strategically aligned.
  • Innovative problem solving can help project managers turn obstacles into opportunity for construction teams. For instance, if a supply chain delay threatens to knock a project off schedule, seizing the moment to adjust corresponding workflows can create efficiencies.
  • Collaborative leadership builds trust from the start and empowers teams to find common ground and avoid disagreements that could slow progress.

“When a client or your team believe what you’re saying, conversations go really fast,” Hattle says. “By building trust and communicating, you can get through the project in a shorter time frame.”

Bridge the Digital Divide

Digital disruption is here—and there’s much more coming as part of the connected construction umbrella. A Deloitte survey found that 43 percent of engineering and construction executives were increasing investment in new design processes. Digital tools might involve something as basic as building information management or the game-changing arrival of the metaverse, which increasingly will allow stakeholders to virtually tour buildings and suggest changes long before shovels hit the ground.

To stay ahead of the curve, project professionals need to immerse themselves in technology:

  • At the very least, develop a basic understanding of how the next-gen tools work—so you can effectively communicate with team members using the tools or explain the value those tools deliver.
  • Embrace the opportunity to become a change accelerator and help companies find new value streams. That’s what Future 50 leader Min Jiang did. As head of the project management office at China State Construction E-Commerce Co., she’s helping the company launch a digital platform that supports faster and more streamlined electronic bidding, procurement, supply chain financing and logistics integration for its more than 700 projects each year.

In fact, as companies struggle to find candidates with the right digital skills, many construction firms are hiring software programmers and data scientists rather than traditional engineers, according to Deloitte. Hattle believes project professionals who double as tech trendsetters are needed to show construction project teams how to seamlessly embrace tech-fueled advancements such as digital supply networks, predictive maintenance tools or autonomous construction equipment.

“Technology is going to go faster and faster, and if you aren’t ready for that high-speed pace, you’ll get left behind very quickly,” Hattle says. 

Become a Construction Unicorn

The grass-is-greener mindset driving a massive talent reshuffle across sectors, fueled largely by a pandemic-era Great Resignation, has yet to abate. PwC’s Global Workforce: Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 found that 1 in 5 employees worldwide are likely to change employers, with compensation the most frequently cited factor. But project professionals in the construction industry who buck that trend stand to earn a long-term career payoff, Hattle says.

He foresees construction companies rewarding those who choose to stay put with professional development and career advancement opportunities that might be more difficult for job-hoppers to secure. In short, now more than ever, it’s a great time for construction project professionals to climb the ladder in their existing organizations. 

“A little bit of loyalty is going to help your career,” Hattle says. “Getting people around you who know you and have confidence in what you can do will accelerate your career within a company faster than somebody who’s willing to offer you a little bit more money this time.” 

But construction companies are looking to reward ambition—not inertia. How can you prove that the company should invest in your career?

  • For project professionals who have three years of experience in the construction field, Project Management Institute offers the PMI Construction Professional (PMI-CP)™. This certification helps project leaders to better understand the principles of effective communication among various stakeholders in large, complex construction projects, while minimizing risk and maximizing profitability.
  • Show persistent curiosity for new skills and insights. For example, earning the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification will give you an advantage of knowing how to introduce iterative approaches if, for instance, supply chain bottlenecks make sequential project work flows unsustainable. 
  • Make non-linear moves within the org just to gain new experiences and knowledge. For instance, taking on business analyst responsibilities will sharpen your strategic vision or joining the company’s IT project team will boost your digital acumen.

“In this market, don’t be afraid to make a sideways move within your company in order to take more steps forward,” Hattle says. “When you’re in a big organization, you can be switch to different types of construction projects—from telecom to power to water. They’re all the art of project management, so that’s how you build skills and your network.”

Make Your Move in Construction

“What differentiates you from someone else is strategic thinking. When planning your career and planning your projects, get in front of it by thinking how you can do better than the next person. That gives you a huge advantage.”
—Gary Hattle, PMP, project manager, Black & Veatch, Denver 

 

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