transition to construction management?


I've seen a few posts about people considering getting into construction management from architecture, but little about how people actually make the transition.

I've only got a few months of job experience with a small architecture firm, however I was closely involved with construction drawings and meeting contractors etc.. so I saw a little into the world of construction. 

I plan to take construction management courses this fall at BCIT up here in Vancouver, and while I hear good things about the program, I fear it won't be enough to actually get me employed in the field.

I need to get experience while in school, but how should I go about it? I could just take a very low paying manual labour job and hammer nails all day, but it won't show me much in the management side of a construction project. An office job as some sort of project assistant would probably be beneficial, but a lot of companies aren't that interested.

I'm wondering who has successfully made the transition, and how did they do it? How do you convince a construction company that your education in architecture is relevant, and gain experience in this field. 

Jul 22, 11 6:57 pm

Are you currently a student, or considering going back to school to take CM courses?

Jul 22, 11 7:37 pm

Considering going back. Done the M.Arch degree last year. I'll also mention I've got zero debt ( not to brag, I was just lucky ) so financially it's doable.

Jul 22, 11 7:55 pm

Don't underestimate the experience of swinging a hammer or even basic construction labor. Construction management requires at least knowledge of all trades and construction processes.

I strongly recommend practical experience over classes. Potential employers will be far more impressed by experience than your education.

there was a time when I used to bang nails by day and draw by night. I will say that fine motor control can be challenging after a full day of nailing off framing and sheathing.


Jul 22, 11 11:14 pm

I've thought that potential employers would prefer the experience to education, but does on-site labour substitute for actual management courses? Will I be exposed to preparing budgets, scheduling and all that if I'm just swinging a hammer?

I've been a little discouraged by the idea of getting into the more physical labour, only because it feels like I'm starting from the bottom of the pile when I know my existing education in architecture should get me some sort of desk job as I've got an idea of how a building goes together.

I have done a small amount of construction work, I mean very small, so it's not impossible for me to do. I have even thought it would do good to be involved with habitat for humanity or something. 

Jul 23, 11 2:08 am

Within academia, the value of degrees tends to be a bit overvalued- understandably so from a perspective of self preservation of the professors. A construction management degree probably won't increase your marketability to potential CMs. If you are dead set on going back to school, you may want to consider an MBA or an engineering degree. The MBA will definitely get CMs interested in you.

The best thing to do is talk to the contractors that you used to work with- not in a fishing for a job sort of way, but in an information gathering sort of way. Most people are very willing to help someone who is interested in their line of work.

With that said, experience will trump everything. There are people in CM with degrees in engineering, architecture, history, business, and those with no degree at all. It comes down to experience, business savvy, and personality more than anything else.

FWIW, you will be hard pressed to be allowed to even pick up a tool depending on the union regulations in the area/ on that particular project. You should probably investigate that before deciding on the hands on route.

Jul 23, 11 10:43 am

Yeah, I definitely get what you mean by degrees being overvalued. It's a common topic here it seems with so many of us over educated and under employed.

I have spoken with construction companies to get their take on the program. They say they often hire graduates, often as estimators, and they do speak highly of the education. They do say that experience along side is a good idea. Many have been glad to talk, but none have offered up the opportunity for me to get experience with them.

A few current job postings do say they want some education in the management field, however experience seems to be the key requirement. I've been considering the courses at this time as I've been unemployed for the past 11 months, and figure it'd be better to fill the void with education than nothing at all. And at least in this region, many construction managers are set to retire over the next few years, and the construction industry in British Columbia is set to grow. Maybe I'm being too optimistic, but it seems like a field with far more potential in the coming years than architecture.

So we know the experience is key, but how do I convince a construction company to take a chance on me, with zero experience and no formal education in construction management?

Further more, an MBA? I have not really explored that idea, but I'm curious if anyone here has.


Jul 23, 11 2:28 pm

My point is that there is no formal education that will guarantee success in construction management. No matter what your background is, you can learn how a building goes together within a year or two.

After those first few years, whether or not you advance will depend on your business skills- how well you can manage the efficiency of your team, the contractors on site, and how well you can think financially with respect to cash flow and budgeting.

CM degrees will typically only cover the first few years of the CM path- the part that you learn on the job anyway. The MBA is more of a long-game strategy and will be key in demonstrating your long-term value to a firm.

I have a few good friends that work for major GCs/CMs- several years out of school, they are already out of positions requiring any technical knowhow and are on to management roles. I would ask them directly what is more valuable: a CM degree or an MBA/ other business training. If the majority of them say the CM degree, I'll eat my shoe.

Jul 23, 11 4:00 pm

i agree with this last point.  the cm's who work in the construction companies we use are technically proficient but if they are spending time hammering nails or welding or fixing a sash then they are wasting their company's money (and frankly they are never any good at it when they are forced to do it in a pinch) .

their job is to maximise profit and to keep quality on track.  that is all about management.  there is a lot of scheduling and financial work involved.  sourcing materials and labor, dealing with the circumstances on site,complaints from the community (always someone), meeting the community, dealing with architects who have different ideas about what is in the dwgs.  etc etc.  you'll notice hammer swinging is not on the list.

in the companies we work with the CM's job also seems to be to bring in work for the company.  most of the guys doing this work are quite bright, social, excellent negotiators and fantastic at calculating profits and loss.

i don't see how hammer swinging teaches you very much with any of the above.  it doesn't hurt but is not an inexorable pathway to the job you have in mind.

Jul 23, 11 7:47 pm

I considering a similar move and am resisiting the temptation of studying for another piece of paper. As some above have already said practical experience seems to hold more weight in the construction industry over formal education. I'm personally considering a carpentry apprenticeship to get some site and technical experience, whilst maintaining some archtectural work on the side. I'd hopefully garner some of the management skills but taking an interest onsite. This would all be with a domestic scale builder. I've been mulling this over for a while now, just need to make the jump! I'm 30 now so it is time to do something about it.

Jul 25, 11 7:55 pm

There are essentially two kinds of management skills. The first is dealing with people, the second is understanding in depth the process you are responsible for. A CM has to be able to negotitate, motivate and coordinate a wide and often disparate range of (occassionally adversarial) services on a critial path.

Psychology classes could arguably be more pertinent than managment courses. In either case, actual on-site construction experience is vital. 


Jul 26, 11 10:48 am

I did an undergrad in CM and it was OK.... much of the material is common knowledge...however I feel an MBA would be the best and possibly a concentration in Finance would be the best option...most of the large GC firms that sent in speakers to our class's had degrees in finance they where more money people than technical people.

Jul 26, 11 10:10 pm

I can definitely see an MBA overall being more beneficial, but also 2.5 x as expensive.

As of recently, since I am still waitlisted for the program as a fulltime student, I would ideally take a few part time courses as I get real experience. I may not even pursue the whole degree, but just take a course or two here and there that seem relevant.

But back to the experience, has anyone here made this same transition, and how did they break in without actual experience? Some suggest swinging hammers, others say it's not relevant. Who out there has had luck?

Jul 28, 11 3:03 am

I am 35 and making a major career shift into the construction world.  My dad was an estimator for 46 years for mainly large government jobs.  I have been in customer service/management for a clothing company as the bulk of my major work experience.  I have undergraduate degrees in Spanish, psychology, and anthropology.  I am very skilled at dealing with and reading people in a work environment because of my interest in psychology.  I just got accepted into the Construction Science Master's program at the University of Oklahoma.  It is an 18 month program that starts this fall.  Because I can read, write, and speak Spanish I want to move back to Southern California to work or possibly get a CM job abroad in Spain or South America when I finish.  Does anyone have opinions on my decision, and how you think I will fare? 

Jul 30, 11 12:44 am

Sorry if I derailed here.  I should have started a new thread.  


Jul 30, 11 1:05 am

chris, what did you decide on doing? I am a BArch student, getting my degree after spring semester, and I am wanting to get into the Construction Management field. Would not having my MArch be big if I went into CM? Is a master degree in CM that much more intriguing over a B-CM, even if I have a BArch?

Nov 4, 12 12:37 pm

I ended up in the construction side of things working for the federal government. Pay is good, not awesome, but considerably better than architecture and I like the environment. It's more laid back, the people are less pretentious and far less snobbish.

I took one job with a contractor about a year ago, and it was awful, I lasted six weeks before quitting due to a negative atmosphere, only to apply for this one.

I only took two courses in construction management before getting hired at my current job ( didn't even list them on the resume ). For my job I just refered to the management skills I obtained in a school project and my few months at a firm. It's a lot of paper work, returning phone calls, getting answers from people and being organised.

I have more or less turned my back on getting my license and going the whole standard process of becoming an "architect". I'd like to call myself one, but it's not worth the awful pay, threat of being laid off at any moment and lack of opportunity.

Nov 6, 12 6:45 pm

Hello Chris, I know its a long time since you opened this threat but i am sort of  in the same situation as you were in 2011, only i have a Bachelors in Business Administration and I am thinking of getting another bachelors in construction management. What do you think are my chances of transitioning after the second degree. I have no construction work experience but i hope to gain some while in the part-time bachelors program. Oh and am also female!. Does that also affect my chances? Thanks in advance!

Aug 28, 13 2:14 am

You can get a master's degree in CM, if you make up remedial foundation courses.  In general, bachelor level CM is to train you to work in the daily grind of construction companies whereas masters level CM is to train you to run construction companies.  In the end, the time commitment may balance out, but make damn sure you want construction.  The gender doesn't matter, as more women are choosing CM degrees.  What matters is that you can stand your ground.  How do you stand your ground?  Point to something in the construction drawings or a CYA memo you wrote, and don't make it an emotional issue.  There are some real pricks in the construction industry, as there are in architecture.  As for the BBA stuff, going to get the MBA will get you more money, but you'd be all over the map in terms of industries.  If you don't give a rat's ass about the industry in which you're placed, it will be like pulling teeth.  The fit with the industry is crucial.  Also, with the MBA, there is so much in the core that is a rehash of a BBA that it would be as bad as watching paint dry.  If you are sure you love the building arts, then go CM.  If you want to make money and can tolerate any industry where you get a high paying job, then go MBA. 

I don't know where you all live, but some, not all, of the BSs in CM are at full-time programs, yet the CM courses are mostly at night so that industry people (a good thing) can teach them.  I think one such program is UMinn.  I don't know if they'll allow a second bachelor's or how much credit they give for undergrad courses, but it's urban and their CM offerings are at night.  Ditto for IUPUI in Indianapolis.  You'll have to scour programs and see which one could accommodate a previous BBA and which will give you a pass on all the work you've done in terms of general ed and electives.

For those who have architecture degrees, accredited or not accredited, a Certificate in CM from a good school, also in the evenings, can open doors.  The construction companies employ certificate grads.

Aug 28, 13 3:28 pm

Cu boulder has an MBA with a concentration in construction of both maybe  

Aug 28, 13 4:38 pm

Cu boulder has an MBA with a concentration in construction of both maybe

It very well could be.  The important thing for the person, or people, who hold a BBA or BSBA is that they get exempted from as many core courses as possible to make their MBA experience less boring and more meaningful.  And then, in the CU-Boulder case, if they don't like the construction sector, they can still go do something else.  Good call.

I'm a big fan of CM education for those who like school enough and are architects/designers who want to diversify, either to change scope within the work world or to broaden their general knowledge in an architectural firm.

Aug 28, 13 6:38 pm

you don't need to spend big money on an mba.  they're one of the most popular masters degrees, and there's so many of them that unless you want to go to one of the top 10, the cheap ones work just fine.  i didn't go to a 5 star school, but i took it upon myself to read a lot and make sure i understood everything-- i think going to an expensive school would be a tremendous waste of money if you're planning on staying in construction (switching industries is a different story though).  in general though, big expensive degrees are overrated and overvalued.

an mba is a generalist degree much like an architecture degree.  you learn just the basics of everything, not too in depth, but just enough to know how the pieces go together, how things happen, and how everything fits into the bigger picture from a strategy standpoint .  the softer courses were kind of fluff to me (management, human resources, etc) but the finance and accounting courses opened a window to how pretty much everything outside of architecture actually functions.

i'm not sure where CMs would use business, but if i were to guess i'd probably say accounting would be one of the more important ones, with some project management (although you don't need to go to school for that-- thats all architects ever do).  you'd probably need a good understanding of finance as well.  you yourself probably won't need to actually be doing anything heavy with finance, but the people you work with/for probably are and you'd need to be able understand them.  then again, i'm just guessing... can anyone here confirm this?

agree that hands on experience actually swinging hammers would actually be more useful, but from a credentials standpoint i think the CM degree would be better.

have you ever though of just applying to a construction company?  seems like a lot of it is just common knowledge or stuff you'd acquire by working under someone.  As an architect you already know how to read plans and know how buildings go together.

Aug 28, 13 6:42 pm

IMO:  if everyone was required to take economics, accounting, and finance in high school, 75% of the college educated workforce wouldn't need degrees.

Aug 28, 13 6:44 pm

IMO:  if everyone was required to take economics, accounting, and finance in high school, 75% of the college educated workforce wouldn't need degrees.

I don't know.  I think high school kids are simply not mature enough to handle the knowledge disseminated in upper division undergraduate business courses.  For that matter, neither are a lot of college business students.  I had a basic economics class in high school and it was interesting, but tests were babyish and easy.  In college, a good grade, and thus comprehension, in more complicated quantitative business courses was not a slam dunk.  Not by a long shot.

Aug 28, 13 6:56 pm

finance is no picnic, but my point is that you don't need a college degree for the vast majority of business degree required jobs, just some common sense.  general business undergrad without any kind of specialization is like being illiterate but educated on how to run a library.

but enough bashing business undergrads.

Aug 28, 13 8:06 pm

but enough bashing business undergrads.

Haha.  I was very good at making fun of myself, and you wouldn't believe how many business undergrads also poke fun at having chosen that major.

Aug 28, 13 9:39 pm
Miles nailed it..

"There are essentially two kinds of management skills. The first is dealing with people, the second is understanding in depth the process you are responsible for. A CM has to be able to negotitate, motivate and coordinate a wide and often disparate range of (occassionally adversarial) services on a critial path."

You don't need a piece of paper to learn the skills required to excel in CM or PM for that matter.
Aug 28, 13 11:32 pm


Looks like everyone got to it before I could. As for being female, it shouldn't be an obstacle, I work with construction and consultant coordinators who are female and several in leadership roles where I am are female as well. The leadership roles however are less to do with construction and more managing us as a business.

Aug 29, 13 3:51 pm

You don't need a piece of paper to learn the skills required to excel in CM or PM for that matter.

Right, in that there are "soft" management skills which cannot be taught.  However, a baseline of proficiency in CM, which can be gotten from a certificate, is good to have.  It's a lot quicker than if one had to pick it up on the fly.  Generally, they have a handful of courses or so - in estimating, scheduling, project management, software for project management, and similar.  All of it is very applied.  And if a person remains an architect, it gives you all that much more credibility in managing the project and the C.A. phase.

Aug 29, 13 7:22 pm

i am owner of a commercial construction company according to my opinion. your knowledge matters the most while convincing someone that you are eligible for the job, i am not saying that qualification certificates don't have value. i am telling is be confident and have some believe on your self i think your qualification is enough!!!

All the best

Anthony Cole 

Sep 23, 13 1:00 am

My father in law owns a constructions company and is pretty well connected into the construction industry. I was thinking of going to work for him as a construction manager or project manager for a while too. 

Is this a good way of utilizing the arch degree if no available arch job is offered upon graduation? 

Sep 23, 13 2:32 am
wurdan freo


Sep 23, 13 3:47 pm

probably the best way, actually.

Sep 23, 13 3:51 pm

thankyou everyone who has replied to my question. I really apreciate. I wasn't planning on an MBA because i know its essentially a repeat of BBA. Since i want to focus on the project management side of things in construction, will a masters program in PM be better of just the PMP certification?. I currently have the CAPM. BTW I live in Vancouver, BC Canada. I am now in a part time construction operations associate certificate program at BCIT. I kinda want to do that first and get a feel of everything before i make a commitment to get a bachelors in construction management

Sep 29, 13 7:43 pm

I love the smell of SPAM in the morning.

Nov 4, 13 8:44 am

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