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Construction managers make a career comeback

If you are looking for a hot job, a career as a construction manager might not be on your short list. After all, the news is filled with depressing statistics of a sagging housing market and stalled recovery. However, experts say those reports only tell half the story. While the residential segment continues to struggle in some areas, commercial and infrastructure projects are on the rebound, and the time is ripe for anyone looking to hop into this growing field.

Construction on the rise

While some states continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession, The Associated General Contractors of America notes construction jobs increased in 30 states and the District of Columbia between February 2011 and February 2012, the best new positive gain since 2007.

During that period of time, the largest employment gains occurred in these three areas:

  • North Dakota: 18.8 percent
  • District of Columbia: 13.2 percent
  • Tennessee: 7.9 percent

In another sign that construction is on the upswing, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found the industry was a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity in 2011. The non-profit reports 24 percent of entrepreneurial activity last year was in construction.

Gov't spending, baby boomers fuel construction jobs

"Here's what we know," said Stephanie Cifuentes, communication manager for the Construction Management Association of America. "We know we have an administration in office that has identified construction as a focal point for years to come."

What's more, the government has poured significant funding into transportation and infrastructure projects in recent years. Currently, the White House is working to move a five-year $260 billion transportation bill through Congress that would help ensure continued support of the construction industry for years to come.

In addition to government spending, Marty Shapan sees an aging population, outdated public buildings and technological needs as driving the construction industry. Shapan is the managing director of Kaye/Bassman, an international recruiting firm.

According to Shapan, the following are some of the projects fueling growth in the construction industry:

  • Research labs for pharmaceutical companies

Construction managers at a glance

  • Data centers for technology needs
  • Medical centers to serve the Baby Boomer population
  • Dorms for colleges and universities looking to update old buildings

Construction managers: More than a foreman

Although it takes all sorts of workers with a variety of skills to make a construction project a success, there is one person on the job site who is responsible for pulling it all together. That person is the construction manager.

"Construction managers serve as the cornerstone of every project," said Cifuentes. "They are responsible for making sure the project comes in on time and on budget."

Cifuentes says the construction manager serves as an extension of the owner, acting as their eyes and ears on the job site. While individual workers may be focused only on their particular task, the manager must look at the big picture and coordinate each piece of the project.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for construction managers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2010-2020. In 2010, these professionals earned median annual pay of $83,860.

Education solid foundation for construction career

For those looking to ride the wave of growth in the construction industry, insiders say now is the time to get a degree.

"People should consider going to school for construction management right now," said Shapan.

While construction managers may have previously worked their way up through the ranks, today's employers are generally looking for job candidates with a bachelor's degree. Shapan notes that in his experience, 75 percent of managers have either a degree in construction management or engineering. However, in some cases, managers may have a degree in business.

Shapan also says there is a shortage of managers who have skills and knowledge in certain construction specialties.

"The people who do estimating and pre-construction services," said Shapan, "there are not a lot of them out there."

In addition to the right degree, Cifuentes says employers may give preference to those with certification.

"More and more, owners out there are looking to reduce risk," she said, "and that is what certification does."

Voluntary certification programs include the Certified Construction Manager designation awarded by the CMAA as well as the Associate Constructor and Certified Professional Constructor designations offered by the American Institute of Constructors.

Landing a job as a construction manager

Beyond having a degree and certification, Shapan and Cifuentes say there are other ways job candidates can improve their chances of landing a top job in the construction industry. Networking is an ongoing process to build up necessary contacts within the industry. In addition, students should look for internships and try to connect with an experienced manager who can act as a mentor.

"Find a professional organization that will help you meet your goals," said Cifuentes.

With the right education and the right professional support, construction management can be a lucrative field waiting to be tapped by job seekers.