Making A Switch -- Construction Management


Hello Archinect community,

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read this. So here's my background. I obtained a 4 year BS Arch then immediately pursued an MArch degree out of state after the summer break. Fast forward to the present, I now have ~2.5 years work experience, living and working in downtown Seattle. 

What I am realizing however, is that like many others, I am not exactly liking the fact that we barely make any money in relation to our degree, amount of work we do, and overall lifestyle. I am interested into possibly moving to the construction management side. At the age of 25, I think it's definitely possible to make that switch. I know the work might be a bit dry, but at least the pay is substantially larger than that of any architect. 

Just wondering if anyone has done this or know of anyone that has? All through school I've seen CM go hand in hand with architecture, but only know a few CM majors out there working now (whom I plan on contacting and asking these same questions). I've been looking at going back to school for a year to get a MS in Construction Management, but I hear/read that the degree is sometimes worthless and I'm better off trying to work for an actual construction firm since practical experience trumps degrees, etc etc. 

If I somehow land a job in CM that pays $70k starting and then climb up, then I would happily ditch climbing up the architectural ladder that starts you at $46k-$50k. I love design and the built environment, and I will never lose that interest. But I want to be able to make more money and basically stay within the built environment field utilizing my MArch and architecture skills and possibly add another skillset from CM. The whole urge to get licensed ASAP is slowly diminishing for me. It almost feels egotistical to try and get licensed/take the tests straight out of grad school, but that's another topic for another day.

Sorry if this post is so messy, just typing out my thoughts.

TL;DR: Tired of crap pay, looking for more lucrative career in CM, advice?


Feb 2, 17 6:02 pm

I took my exams right out of school, but I do have a massive ego that only grows larger as I tweet out insane things and take credit for things my predecessor left for me.

Oh wait, that's Trump (minus the exams part). If you feel you'd like CM better, go for it. I know a couple of people that went that route and enjoy it. You may not need the MS in Construction Management. 

Just be warned, you're not going to escape stress no matter where you go. And if you are driven enough in this profession and advocate for yourself, you can make the money you desire.

Feb 2, 17 6:10 pm

Hey Josh,

Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the political humor haha. 

I'm glad to hear that you know some people that enjoy CM. Do you know how they went about the transition? In my mind, I would contact some of the people I know within the construction firms that I have worked with and try and get my foot in the door that way..but not having any experience in CM is what pulls me back right away. 

The MS in CM not being needed would be great as I really would prefer not to go back to school. I could do it, but it's definitely not preferred.

Anyhow, I forgot to mention that I don't intend on making this jump until after I try my hand in multifamily housing/highrise residential architecture. I've been working in higher ed projects for the last two years, but living in the constantly growing city that is Seattle has my attention focusing elsewhere. I plan on researching the transition as I go though.

Feb 2, 17 6:21 pm

Hey there, 

I made this transition a few years ago. There are a few topics on this forum about it, including probably one or two I've started or contributed to.

My situation was similar, but actually even worse. I was 25, finished my M.Arch at a young age compared to most of my classmates and wanted to go full speed into getting my license. I got a job in mid sized firm and it paid a pathetic $18 CDN an hour. This was 2010 and work wasn't that easy to get. Upon being laid off I was told that my $18 an hour was good as most were making just $15 out of school. I wasn't impressed that I struggled to find and keep a $35k CDN a year job despite my education. 

I was lured into CM. I decided that I was really interested in real estate development. I reached out to a few in the field that already made the transition and it looked like CM was the way to go. Courses here and there are probably useful for learning MS Project or Timberline but real world experience is what you need. After a painful transition, I got a government job working with housing for the military. The pay was a lot better, but not stellar. I was now at $51k a year and over two and a half years worked my way up to $57k.

I enjoyed CM work quite a bit. It's a different skill set. Sure design helps, but personality is key. It's knowing when to be firm, when to compromise, how to grease the wheels and keep something going. It's stressful too, especially when you throw in government bureaucracy and a small issue gets elevated to a national office level. Every day in CM can be different and you're frequently out of the office and on site. My weakness is organisation, tracking schedules and paper work and admitting when I don't know what someone is talking about. This will get you into trouble quick. 

I left the CM to get back into design, more specifically in thrill ride design. Pay is another big step up and it combines a nice mix of design, creative problem solving and dealing with personalities. 

I miss the intellectual design discussions of architecture, the nicer offices and opportunities to nerd out over expensive door handles and light switches, but I don't miss the lack of mobility in the career and terrible pay.

Feb 2, 17 7:18 pm
Non Sequitur
where in canada were they paying 35/year in 2010 for fresh grads? I think I was clearing 50 in my first year out of school back in 2009.

To the OP, I have several projects where the CM staff were very young compared to the consultants. That inexperience shows up fast and makes everyone's job difficult. Try and get your hands dirty on site in your current office to see how it is from the other side.
Feb 2, 17 7:35 pm

Non Sequitur, that was in Victoria. I wasn't really hired as a permanent employee, just hired to help with one project and then stayed on for six months.

Feb 2, 17 7:46 pm
Non Sequitur

^Damn... I hunted down a job at one of my top choice firms less than 2 weeks post graduation but turned it down on the spot. Original offer was $12/hr... then after some arm twisting, it became $15. I turned that one away but I do know of colleagues who took sub $20/hr jobs.

Feb 2, 17 7:56 pm

Yeah, when I tried looking for jobs afterwards I was asking for $24 an hour and was told it was a bit too high. 

Feb 2, 17 8:28 pm

I'd really caution you on the CM jump. I'm 27, undergrad from a prestigious Architecture program. After graduating I became quickly disillusioned by the rhetoric in the design office I was interning at (in SF). So I made the leap to CM (Bim, project engineering) with a major CM firm, making 70k. I quit after two years because, yes the pay is so much better than an architecture firm, but the work is rote and hardly imbued with anything besides monetary considerations. I gets old, quickly. So I'd really caution you about doing this. If you want, send me a PM and we can talk about it. 

Feb 15, 17 12:03 pm

When 2008 happened I got laid off. I had 5 years of work experience at the time. There were no arch. jobs available so I applied for a job at a construction company and started working doing estimating work, preparing RFIs, and generally being an assistant to the job super. It was a great learning experience and it was awesome leaving work at 5pm. I did this for 2.5 years and got licensed during this time. Then when the economy started getting better; I was able to make the transition back to arch. my resume was desirable because of my "CM" experience. The license gave me credentials. 

The point is.. go for it. And if you don't like it.. you can always come back to architecture. You'll learn a lot and it will be stressful. But it won't be a minus to your career. 

Feb 16, 17 2:59 pm

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