Guide to College Majors in Construction Management

By C Nich

Management is nothing more than motivating other people.
--Lee Iacocca

What Is Construction Management?

A construction manager is responsible for the physical construction of a structure (or a portion of it, as in remodeling or renovations) and works on behalf of the owner or developer. The construction manager can be a staff member, an employee of a management company, or an individual consultant, like almost half of the construction managers in the US.

If you're interested in becoming a construction manager, you will find yourself deeply involved in each project, from concept to ribbon-cutting. You'll oversee details regarding the workforce, materials, equipment, and safety issues for workers and the surrounding community. This is done by dividing site activities into logical steps during the planning stage, and monitoring each step along the way to ensure the project meets deadline and budget requirements. Your job may involve working directly with the architect or engineer on design specifications. It's crucial that you understand both the big picture and the small details that go into making it a reality.

To enter the field, you will need to have a considerable amount of practical experience--which you can gain through apprenticeship and on-the-job training--combined with a college education. At work you'll need to provide accurate timelines and cost estimates, and use specialized industry software.

You'll need a working knowledge of every aspect of the job, from excavation to finishing--despite the fact that you may not do the actual manual labor. And you could be on call 24 hours a day to handle emergencies, deal with weather problems, or work around unforeseen delays. You may also be called upon to travel and spend long periods of time at a site, depending on the size and scope of your work.

Another responsibility you'll have is obtaining necessary permits and licenses and, depending upon the contractual arrangements, you'll direct or monitor compliance with building and safety codes and other regulations. You may have several subordinates, such as assistant managers or superintendents, field engineers, or crew supervisors.

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Career Education in Construction Management

A college degree in construction management is important because it provides the necessary knowledge and skills that work experience alone can't provide. Employers increasingly seek candidates who combine hands-on work experience with a bachelor's or master's degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering.

Professionals in the industry are increasingly turning to online college courses in construction management while they work, in order to gain hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge at the same time. Your studies can begin with a focus on specific trade areas such as building code enforcement, power technology, or electrical work. Online degree programs can 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.

Training in computers and software programs for job costing, scheduling, and estimating also is important in order to keep up with industry innovations and standards. Good oral and written communication skills are important, as are leadership skills. As a manager, you must be able to establish a good working relationship with many different people, including clients, other managers, designers, supervisors, and tradesmen.

What Can You Do With a College Major in Construction Management?

More than half of all construction managers (61 percent) were self-employed in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The rest work for specialty trade contractors including plumbing, heating and air-conditioning, and electrical contractors; general building contractors; engineering, architectural, and construction management services firms; local governments; educational institutions; and real estate developers. Most people working in construction management have substantial prior experience as tradesmen--carpenters, masons, plumbers, or electricians. They may also come from a background as construction supervisors or owners of independent specialty contracting firms, overseeing workers in one or more construction trades.

The most important skills for a construction manager are flexibility and the ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment. You should be decisive and work well under pressure, particularly when there are unexpected occurrences or delays. The ability to coordinate several major activities at once, while analyzing and resolving specific problems, is essential, as is an understanding of engineering, architectural, and other construction drawings.

Construction Management Jobs

Good employment opportunities for construction managers are expected through 2018, with the best prospects for those who combine construction work experience with a bachelor's degree in a construction-related field. The demand for highly qualified managers is increasing, because the construction process has been complicated by sophisticated technology and the proliferation of laws setting standards for buildings and construction materials, worker safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protection. Other factors expected to add to industry growth include advances in building materials and construction methods; the need to replace infrastructure; and the growing number of multipurpose buildings, electronically operated "smart" buildings, and energy-efficient structures.

Advancement opportunities as a construction manager vary, depending on your performance and the size and type of your company. Within large firms, you may move into upper-level management or executive positions. Highly experienced individuals may become independent consultants or may establish their own construction management services, specialty contracting, or general contracting firm.

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Certification and Licensure

Certification is not required to work in the construction industry, but voluntary certification is valuable because it provides evidence of competence and experience.

Both the American Institute of Constructors (AIC) and the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) have established voluntary certification programs for construction management professionals. Requirements combine written examinations with verification of professional experience.

AIC awards the Associate Constructor (AC) and Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) designations.

CMAA awards the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation to practitioners who meet the professional requirements, pass a technical examination, and complete a self-study course that covers a broad range of topics central to construction management.

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About the Author
Contributing writer to World Wide Learn

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