I often get asked what a young professional should do to become successful in construction.
Here are a few mistakes that young construction professionals should avoid when starting out.
- Thinking that construction is an easy job. Construction is tough. Things will go wrong. The hours are long. Clients and owners will be difficult. The weather will be horrible. It’s not fun being outside in the dust, heat, rain or cold, while others have a nice cosy job.
- Expecting to be home early. You go home when the project is finished for the day. I can’t count the countless times I stayed late on a project when things went wrong – the crane broke, the concrete arrived late, or we just had to get the job finished today. You definitely shouldn’t be making a habit of staying late to finish your work – that’s just poor planning. But, there will be times when you have to stay late to see a problem through. You can’t abandon your team to solve a problem or finish a task while you are sitting at home.
- Joining a company because of the salary. You finished your studies and all you want to do is earn the big money? Well we all want to earn the best salary, but unfortunately just because you have a qualification and a piece of paper doesn’t mean you know about construction. Believe me there’s still lots to learn, and what you learn in the first few years in the construction world will set you up for success or failure in the rest of your career. Join a company that will give you the best experience, one that has a good reputation, one with good people, and preferably one that has a structured program for new construction professionals. A good solid foundation will help you build a successful construction career, and the money should follow afterwards.
- Looking down on the trades. We depend on good tradespeople. We can learn lots from them. Respect those working for you and you’ll earn their respect.
- Not asking questions. Everyone is busy in construction, and few managers and tradespeople have the time to teach new recruits. However these managers and tradespeople often have vast experience and knowledge to share – you just have to get the information out of them.
- Thinking you know everything. Even after 30 years in construction I know I can learn lots more in construction.
- Expecting to have an office job. Construction happens out on the project site. Too often people think they can sit in the office and look at their computers, studying the construction schedule and reading reports. Nothing beats being at the work face. Looking at the quality and safety on the project. Talking to those working on the project – understanding some of the challenges they face. Looking at how processes and methods can be improved. Understanding the mood and morale of the project team. Even as the managing director of a business unit I still made every effort to get to my project sites at least once a month, and where possible more frequently.
- Assuming that respect comes with a job title, or that respect come from being buddies with your team, or for being lenient with them. Respect must be earned. You have to be fair and tough. Respect is mutual. Respect others and they’ll be more likely to respect you. Respect comes with knowledge and trust.
- Assuming that you will be using what you learned at university or college. As a young entrant into construction you will be expected to do all kinds of mundane stuff, you may even have to do the coffee run or organise the barbeque! You are going to do heaps of things on a construction project that you were never taught at university or college. Most of all you are going to have to master many of the softer skills which you probably weren’t taught – like communication, time management, delegation, negotiating, problem solving and dealing with people.
- Thinking that you are going to make a difference to the world. I often hear young people say that they going into construction so they can change the world. Provide water, electricity and sewage connections to the poor. Others think that they’ll be constructing iconic landmark projects that will be admired by the public. Unfortunately most of construction isn’t like that. Most projects are fairly boring and hardly get a passing mention.
- Thinking that you are going to be construction manager, project manager, or site manager, on your first project. There is much to learn in construction, and a lot of it isn’t taught at college or university. You need practical on the ground experience. To manage a construction project requires technical skills and knowledge. Project Managers also need to know and understand the performance of various types of equipment. They must be able to read and understand drawings, see their interrelationship, and be able to visualise the construction process. They have to procure materials and place subcontract orders, then manage the delivery process and the subcontractors’ performance. Project Managers must ensure that no one is injured or harmed in any way while on the project. They have to ensure that the project is delivered to the required quality standards, so must be familiar with the project specifications, quality control documentation, testing procedures and tests required. They must be able to manage, work with, and interact with people. They require a knowledge of industrial relations procedures, basic financial principles and an understanding of legal and contractual requirements.
- Sitting back and assuming you’ll automatically be taught things, and that you will miraculously become a project manager. You must take control of your career. You must ask questions. You must ask for more responsibilities. You must prove that you can do the job and you must demonstrate that you can be trusted on and relied upon to deliver tasks successfully. Those in construction are notoriously bad at sharing knowledge, explaining things or delegating responsibility. It’s up to you.
Construction isn’t easy, there are tough projects, difficult people and companies and people that will let you down. It’s important not to become discouraged. Your career won’t always go as planned. There will be times when you are going up and then times when you feel your career is standing still or even going backwards. Unfortunately construction is cyclical and there will be times when the construction industry is busy and other times when work is in short supply. Your progress up the ladder is very dependent on these cycles. Obviously when work isn’t plentiful your company won’t be in a position to promote you or give you a project to manage. I often had mundane jobs in between projects. Take each of these jobs, no matter how boring, as a challenge and ensure you deliver them successfully. Every job always offers something new to learn.
Don’t get impatient. But, also don’t let your company pigeonhole you in a job that you are good at doing. Always ask for new opportunities, not salary increases or promotions.
The grass often looks good on the other side of the fence, but be careful about jumping companies since they often don’t turn out the way you expected. The new company frequently has the same irritants that your previous company had, and you have to get used to working with new people and systems. If you leave a company it should be for experience and not money, unless the company you are with is really taking advantage of you and paying you poorly.
Good luck and keep learning. Construction needs all the bright enthusiastic young professionals it can get. You are the future of construction.
What advice do you have for young professionals in the construction industry?
What was the best thing you did when you started your career in the construction industry?
This article is adapted from information in the author’s popular books: 'Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide' and 'Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide' and 'Construction Project Management: Tips and Insights'
'Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors' is another of Paul's useful books. These books are available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website.
Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.
© 2017 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.