“The Skills Contractors Want” by Marty Shapan of Kaye/Bassman International

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I am lucky in that I feel I have the greatest job in construction. As an executive recruiter, I specialize in helping construction firms attract and hire top-talent, and talk with roughly 4,000 employers annually. During my 12 year career, I’ve had tens of thousands of conversations with CEOs and vice presidents asking them one simple question, “What’s the one person you could use right now that could impact your bottom line?”

These conversations have allowed me the insight into how the industry has evolved.  It’s no longer good enough to just be a solid project manager.  Today’s construction professionals have to be the complete package, or what college football coaches would call “the best all-around athlete.” Much like coaches, construction firms are looking for someone who can fill a variety of positions or roles on the field. Companies are also looking for the best specialist, i.e. a mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) professional, scheduler or BIM modeler.

Let’s define each more specifically so you can see how you stack up and how you would do competing against other candidates for hard-to-get jobs opportunities.

The ‘Athlete’

Firms have pared down, keeping only essential personnel so employers have realized they can do more with less. One common phrase I have heard a lot as my team has worked the market is “find me some­ one who is a seller/doer.”

What’s a “seller/doer,” you ask? It’s someone with a penchant for business development who enjoys the thrill of networking with architects, owners and other potential clients. They also enjoy estimation, preconstruction services and management.

Basically, “seller/doers” are well-rounded builders who can tackle any construction related tasks. Now some larger builders like Turner or Skanska are still vertically integrated. However, most regional builders have moved toward flatter-less hierarchal management where the decisions are pushed down. This means firms are looking for people with diverse project lists and competency in all divisions of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

In addition, firms want people who take the initiative to stay on top of the latest technology and training. This has become important as more work has become technical including life sciences, healthcare and data center projects. Even corporate campus and multifamily projects are employing BIM technologies. In talking with firms that perform these sophisticated projects, I realize the need for construction professionals to be up to speed on BIM products like Revit.

General contractors are cutting waste as much as possible by using products such as Blue Beam, which makes plans available digitally.

The construction project manager’s desk of the future seems like it will look like two 24- inch, flat-screen monitors and a tricked-out computer sans stacks of plans and change orders. Estimating and scheduling functions are being tied together using BIM with scheduling programs such as Primavera 6, where the schedule can be cost loaded.

These tools signal a move toward more efficient construction methods like integrated project delivery. I am not saying an overwhelming amount of firms are utilizing this delivery method but one could conjecture that this method is where the road is leading.

The best athletes are the ones who have a desire for involvement in business development, diverse resumes with relevant projects and continual learning especially related to technology.

The ‘Specialist’

Work that is technical in nature means more firms are also looking for specialists. We have seen a rise in searches for MEP project managers, schedulers with project management backgrounds and BIM professionals with practical hands-on experience.

The larger and more complex the project, the more potential conflicts exist, and one way firms eliminate waste is BIM models.

The BIM professionals in demand are those who came up through the project management ranks and can relate to what is actually happening outside of being purely a software guru.

Today, contractors want MEP project managers who can estimate, buy out the trades, manage the budget and forecast. The more rounded and advanced the MEP professional is, the more in demand they are.

Overall, the specialist has to be an individual who continually is mastering their craft and is always on the cutting edge of technology, along with having fantastic communication skills.

Based upon talking with many hiring managers if I could give construction professionals advice it would be to work for a firm where they invest in the best technology, training and pursue projects that will allow you to have the most diversified resume.   Make sure you are the one managing your career because more often than not your firm won’t do it for you.

Marty Shapan is an Executive Recruiter with Kaye/Bassman International, and a Managing Partner of the Construction & Real Estate Practice. For more information on the Construction & Real Estate Practice and current opportunities please email martys@kbic.com. 972.265.5202