A Conviction of Extraodinary Consequences

May 31, 2013

The past 5 years has presented itself with incredible changes in many industries. My field of expertise in included in these changes and I see consequences that may not be obvious to many. Academics have been convinced by some industry leaders that the skill of project management in the construction industry can be obtained by students with 60 hours worth of class time and allot of money. The academic institutions see this money grab, create these wonderful course curriculums and charge outrageous amounts of money for these basic management courses. Yet the labour pool that often take these courses are not the right choice.

Not too many years ago it was customary for a tradesman who wanted to move into the office was noticed by the office personnel for his leadership abilities in managing site requirements. This individual would take courses in scheduling, labour management, and administrative processes such as change notices, meeting minutes, reports, PCN’s etc. These courses would add the necessary education to become familiar with the office environment and add value to the real essential knowledge and skill of many years of previous site experience. This method of choosing trades people from the site to accomplish the management of projects is still the way it is done from a subtrades perspective.

But times have changed rapidly from the general contractors perspective. Engineers are a dime a dozen now- a – days with the world economy the way it is. They seem to be chosen for project management roles despite their site experience or management capabilities. I have had the great opportunity to work with engineering students making their way through their summer programs and internships and through observation realise there are only a few that are cut out for the role as project manager. Yes, they have great technical abilities obtained from their engineering studies, yet lack, good written skills, communication skills, adaptive problem solving skills, labour negotiation skills, scheduling skills, administrative skills. Since the majority of skills required to manage a project are not related to engineering why are engineers chosen to manage construction projects? I’ve been perplexed by this question for several years. There is no doubt they can learn these management skills just a well as a tradesman, but they will still lack one of the great essential advantages that a tradesman possess and that is hands on site experience. Historical labour productivity measurements and book knowledge of equipment does not make up for site experience. It is only a good start.

The tradesman as a potential project manager will always have the advantage over and engineer all things being equal. Technical ability may provide some advantages if engineering needs to take place on a project, but  when it comes to overall project understanding with labour, construction procedures and the ability to speak the same language as trades and suppliers there is no doubt the tradesman turned project manager has a distinct advantage. Now, there is no doubt I am biased due to my own history in the trades and my 30 years experience in the construction industry, yet I have not witnessed any great advantage to the discipline of an engineer in this capacity.

The question remains why are p.engineers used in this capacity? What can they bring to the table that a tradesman with further management capabilities cannot bring? Again, very little. Once an engineer obtains a position as a project manager and is in a position to hire the next generation they will usually hire themselves. This is typical for any industry and hence the reason many industries are in such trouble. Education cronyism is only works if the individual hired for their particular position are capable. But again, I see little capability when hiring from an education pool not neccessarily well adapted to a managerial role such as project management.

The incredible talent I have witnessed from tradesman over the years has been overlooked by many in senior management. This is partially the fault of the tradesman; the poor use of language( foul mouthed) may be popular on site but when it comes to the office environment, proper language skills are essential to standing out in a crowded market place. The distasteful act of the potty mouth syndrome carries itself into the office with the tradesman and dumbs down their capabilities. Shame that they do not see this flaw. They believe they can chum it up with the rest of the present office staff not realising that they are on trial when they open their mouths.

I much prefer a tradesman as a project manager for projects I am involved in. There are many project management courses and certifications flooding the market in the past 5 years where as in the  past it was learning by internship. I recognise that the hiring of engineers is just a trend, but the trend has lasted too long and the boys from the site need to pick up the pace on this front and shine a little brighter. it will make for better project communication, better understanding of the process and more reality logic to get project completed.

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April 14, 2010

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