Have you always enjoyed playing in the dirt or not just having a house but constructing a house? Construction maybe the career for you! Construction is the process of building a structure to provide people with shelter, roads, bridges, and so forth. The construction industry contributes a significant amount of money to the economy on an annual basis. The Associated General Contractors of America state that the industry employs 7 million people and creates about $1.3 trillion worth of structures yearly.
Working in construction involves productivity-based rewards and the use of advanced technology in order to complete tasks. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), only 3% of young participants were interested in pursuing a career in construction. In addition to this, in 2018, The Hechinger Report found that there is a huge shortage of skilled tradework in America, as many youths opt for four-year long bachelor degrees, as opposed to training in a specialized skill that costs significantly less to acquire than a degree, and will potentially earn them more money down the line. People with technical training and education are also more likely to be hired than academics, the report says.
The shortage of skill trades, particularly in the construction industry, has an effect on the economy, with many contractors citing a difficulty in hiring the necessary skilled workers. Furthermore, multiple states such as Tennessee, Iowa, California and Washington have placed emphasis on encouraging young people to consider venturing into technical careers in order to close the gap. For example, technical colleges in Tennessee are free of charge and California has set aside $200 million to improve technical education and careers in the state. This is an indication of how vocational education has often been overlooked in favor of academia, as well as the need to address and rectify the shortage of trade persons in the country.
Attitudes about skilled tradework, such as construction can explain the shortage of technical skills, with many holding the perception that working in construction is physically demanding and difficult. There’s also a perception that having a bachelor’s degree is more beneficial than having a technical certificate, an attitude that can be attributed to decades of messaging that encouraged high school learners to pursue bachelor’s degrees. Of course, the idea that a bachelor’s degree is somehow more beneficial than technical training is false, shown by the high amount of competition for jobs of degree holders which has subsequently decreased income for those jobs and increased the income for technical jobs, due to the shortage of workers. While this is so, it’s also important to note that one can acquire a university degree and still work in the construction industry, depending on what role is desired. However, working in construction is a viable career path that can guarantee more success than pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree and unlike decades ago, it is less labor-intensive with far more opportunities available.
How to get into construction
To start a career in construction in the United States, you can opt for a technical education, study at a community college, a university, or learn through an apprenticeship — as seen on the I Build America website. Your options are dependent on what role you’d like to assume in the construction industry.
Technical education - Technical education gives you practical experience and can be acquired at a technical college. The average length of a course is usually 2 years, although there are 4-year courses available. Technical education tends to be more affordable than university.
Community college - These colleges have a number of courses related to construction which includes theoretical and practical programs. Community college also tends to be more affordable than university.
University - With a broad range of courses available, one can choose a degree that they would be able to utilize in the construction industry. For example, if you study accounting or project management, you can use your degree to specialize in the construction industry.
Apprenticeship - These are training programs that provide participants with basic knowledge, training and practical on-the-job experience. Apprenticeships are quite valuable in the sense that they allow individuals to experience the practicality of being on a construction project, as opposed to just providing a theoretical basis.
Main roles in the construction industry
Some of the roles in construction include: construction worker, construction manager, estimator, architect, supervisor, expeditor, engineer, electrician, foreman, project manager, superintendent, safety officer, accountant, draftsperson, quantity surveyor, crew leader and many more. The field is diverse with opportunities, and one can find their perfect fit depending on personal interests, strengths and weaknesses.
Here are some brief descriptions of a select few roles in the construction industry:
Construction worker - They are the reason the construction project materializes. Their job duties include demolishing and erecting structures through the use of heavy machinery and collaboration. Being physically fit and healthy also helps as they often lift heavy objects. It’s also important for them to be aware of safety rules and regulations while at the construction site.
Construction manager - A construction manager oversees a construction project from inception to finish. They are in charge of planning, organizing, leading and controlling materials, schedules and employees. They have a high level of responsibility and communication is an important aspect of their job duties.
Estimator - They predict the costs, materials and labor needed to make a construction project a success. They use metrics and calculations aided by advanced software to help them make the best possible estimate. Blueprints, documents, proposals and specifications help estimators make estimates too.
Architect - An architect is the creative behind the project. They conceptualize and design projects, often reimagining how to restore old buildings or designing new ones. They have a responsibility to put together a design proposal that meets the client’s needs, and in modern times, also does minimal damage on the environment.
Supervisor - This role entails the supervision of projects and daily activities at construction sites. Although similar to construction managers, this role is more focused with observing the inner workings of operations, whereas managers are more focused on coordinating the external. They also make sure all employees adhere to health and safety protocols, and that projects are completed according to schedule.
Expeditor - An expeditor is in charge of the workflow of a construction project. They are in charge of bringing materials from the supplier to the construction site. Organization is a huge aspect of this role, as is managing details and schedules.
Engineer - The role of a civil engineer is to direct and plan construction projects. Many engineers specialize in specific construction projects, as opposed to focusing on a broad range of projects. Examples of various construction projects include electrical, mechanical, commercial buildings, highways, bridges, wastewater plants and tunnels. Their main duties are to ensure that constructions are built in a structurally safe manner.
Safety officer - A safety officer is responsible for ensuring that all employees work in a safe environment and are up to speed with health and safety regulations. They do this by facilitating healthy and safety meetings, inspecting construction sites regularly, handing out relevant safety guidelines and keeping communication channels open.
Project manager - Project managers in the construction industry work in close proximity with architects and engineers, overseeing the development of plans and ensuring that projects are executed within budget and timeously.
Quantity surveyor - A quantity surveyor is in charge of managing cost plans for construction projects. Their expertise are needed from the start to the end of a project. They also provide insights into whether a project is aligned with legal and quality industry standards.
The above listed occupations are only a fraction of the job opportunities available in the construction industry. For construction trades, the median income level is $78,990 for half of all workers, with the top quarter of workers taking home about $100,720 per year. According to Indeed, the average hourly rate for those working in construction is $15.96. Entry level workers with no experience can expect to earn from $29,942 according to Payscale. Of course, despite the averages presented here, each specific job role salary is dependent on experience and job duties and functions.
Women in construction
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only make up 10.3% of the construction industry and this percentage dwindles when you evaluate the amount of women on an actual construction site. The construction industry is known for being male dominated, and there can be many barriers to entry for women who seek to establish themselves in this industry. This can be attributed to the gendered division of labor, where boys are encouraged to pursue physically demanding careers and girls are not. Despite this, some women have managed to break the glass ceiling and establish themselves as leaders in the industry.
Women leaders in the construction industry are making strides, with more executives and managers being hired in their roles in the past few years — illustrating that although the industry isn’t as diverse as it could be, there are some improvements being made. In order to deal with the shortage of women in construction as well as address the gender pay gap, holding workshops, and providing opportunities through training programs, mentoring programs and jobs targeted towards girls and women can be a step in the right direction. Myths around girls and women not being able to flourish in industries like construction can only be dispelled through education and the provision of opportunities.
The National Association of Women in Construction is a nationally recognized group that aims to support and provide opportunities for women in construction through mentorships, workshops, marketing and networking opportunities. They have over 115 chapters across the country. Other organizations dedicated to uplifting women in construction are Women Construction Owners and Executives USA, Tradeswomen.net and the Women Building the Nation Conference.
As with any field, the construction industry requires you to stay updated with the latest developments, continuously brush up on existing knowledge as well as learn new things.
Here are some educational resources that will assist with doing so:
The construction industry is an important facet of the American economy. While this is so, there is a huge shortage of skilled workers due to the continued emphasis on encouraging school leavers to pursue theory-based studies through four-year-long bachelor degrees, as opposed to technical studies at vocational colleges that focus on skilled labor. There are various avenues one can take to get into the construction industry, namely: receiving technical education at a technical college, going to a community college, studying at a university or learning practical skills through an apprenticeship. With many career options available in the construction industry, it makes it simpler to choose a career path that is aligned with your strengths and weaknesses. The income level for people working in construction is often higher than those who study bachelor degrees, making working in construction a viable career option. One aspect the construction industry needs to improve upon is the lack of women present, although some improvements have been made within the last few years.