What Construction Management Students Seek in An Employer

As employers in the construction industry struggling to find the best workers to make you competitive, you have expectations about the graduates of construction management (CM) programs. The industry perspective is important in defining the necessary skills of qualified CM graduates. You want individuals who understand the fundamentals of construction, including estimating, scheduling, and cost control. But how will you attract the best and brightest in today’s competitive market without knowing their desires about their future employers.

ABC National hosted a panel discussion at its convention in March to address this. The session, What Does It Take To Be an Employer of Choice, addressed what contractors can do to stand out from the competition when trying to attract these individuals to join their teams.

The panel was led by Gretchen Bockenhauer, Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor in Construction Management at UW-Platteville. Participants included Camden Johnson, Construction Management Student at the University of Northern Iowa; Kennedy Kramek, Construction Management Student at Michigan State University, and Zach Wynstra, Construction Management Student at University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Here are some of the more valuable excerpts from that discussion to provide perspectives from these students:

Zach Wynstra: First three things, assuming that the company already has good culture and you fit in with and all that, how much the company wants to invest back into you, if that’s certifications, setting up the right software, and safety training … everything else. That’s a big one because I’d rather work with a company that wants to continually make me better. And that’s how you grow as company leaders … and then also, having room for advancement, being able to do it in house when you have opportunities of hiring from outside. If you’re there and you’re dedicated and you’re working for the company and giving your time … I would like to have that room for advancement with it and have a regular open conversation, regular checkups, making sure that you’re happy where you’re at.

Kennedy Kramek: The main things I look for is just right up front, the company, is if they can tell me what my opportunities are going to be, how I have to fulfill these goals and how I’m going to be able to succeed in a team environment, a culture that strives for success and excellence. Just working together and all the time. So good culture basically. And of course, just showing that they’re also willing to invest in me as an individual whether that be programs to benefit if I ever want to have family balance my life or even further education and just grow as a professional speaker going to work for 30 years, but also continue to grow in my interest in academics or professionally.

Camden Johnson: For me, it’s very much similar. Culture is definitely number one. The people that you’re with and location. For culture, I always like to talk to contractors about the culture and then see if they’re goanna talk about it or be about it because a lot of people talk about their culture when they don’t do anything to promote their culture and at the end of the day, there’s going to be problems. It’s just inevitable, and how you face those problems and the people that you deal with will make or break your career and if you enjoy it or not. So, culture is definitely number one and then actually making the promise to keep that culture and then keeping up on that promise, because I see a lot that people talk about their culture. You go there and then you find out it’s not exactly what they hyped up when they were interviewing you … Right now, I work for a company called Build It. They’re mainly a heavy civil side of the industry and I sell their training platform while I’m in school and I talk to companies all the time that are pushing training, and I talk to companies that aren’t interested in training and then I see the companies that are pushing training and employees that they’re getting in. Right now, everyone’s having employee retention problems and finding good employees … and the people that push training and are willing to provide it I see they have a lot more success retaining employees and finding them and it makes me want to go work there more because they’re investing in their people.

construction student panel

From left to right are Camden Johnson, Construction Management Student at the University of Northern Iowa; Kennedy Kramek, Construction Management Student at Michigan State University, and Zach Wynstra, Construction Management Student at University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Do you want to be stationary or are you good about moving?

Zach Wynstra:
The work life balance as we all know isn’t necessarily a thing that you can really get in construction. I think we all know that. You can try for it and everything else but it’s when you have to be on site you have to be on site; you gotta go over the work is. That’s what I’ve always been used to. I want to travel for another six, seven years because I think you learn a lot more and a lot. You just learned a lot more within those six years than being stationary because that’s all you have to do. Really, it’s not like you can go home and love your hobbies or anything else.  There’s the money aspect of it; how they make more money traveling. I think you can advance a lot farther doing that. But by the time I hit 28/29 I’d like to be stationary and start a family one day. I’m not gonna work for the money anymore, because I have money and I hated it and I would much rather have the quality of life within the company than going for the money because you only have so much time. I learned that the hard way and that’s the reason why I went to school. But traveling wise, I like it because I’ve seen a lot of different states a lot of different places and it’s nice. But the financial aspect is huge. I wouldn’t be doing it for just the same salary as being in office because you miss out on family holidays, friends, everything else. I’d say it’s pretty even next for me. The finances definitely have to be there. To be able to do it. I think everyone already kind of knows that.

Camden Johnson:
I’m in a very similar boat as Zach. I built bridges for the summer at Davis Bacon pay; made a lot of money. I can do it just about anywhere and make a lot of money doing it but it’s not about the money. I found that out the first summer doing it that I’d rather be happy in life and be making a lot of money because there’s just more to it and then getting offers here recently,  money has been a little bit of it, but more so has been the culture and the people that I will be working with just because if I hate work every day, money can’t fix that.

Kennedy Kramek:
I have a similar approach because even, with the perspective of someone young who’s in college and has like student debt, you can feel pressure like, “Oh, I really need to try to better my future by pursuing this money to get out of this situation.” But I started realizing maybe more of a short sighted outlook to it — and even this past year — looking at internships, I ended up accepting one that was like, way, way less money than one of them because I was like this doesn’t seem like the place I’m going and what I’m going to be doing that’s not what I want for the growth of my career or like what I think I need for like a stepping stone moving forward.

There’s much more on this article regarding GC v. Subcontractor, employee retention, social media and culture. See the entire article in the May/June 2023 issue of the Merit Shop Contractor magazine (member login required).
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