Your Blueprint to a Future in Construction Leadership
People with an eye for architecture and design and a mind for business can put their skills to work with a degree in construction management. Working for contractors and management firms, construction managers take care of all aspects of a construction project, from the planning stages through every detail of the construction phase. This guide takes a look at education and career opportunities for those interested in a construction management degree.
Best Construction Management Programs
A construction management degree program may be beneficial for those who want to gain an overview of the materials and methods used throughout the construction process. Students will be able to learn about large-scale projects from the planning to completion stages. To help college-bound individuals choose the best program for them, we weighed every construction management degree program in the country to create a ranked list of the top schools based on our criteria. Explore the top construction management degree programs here.
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Construction Management at a Glance
When the blueprints leave an architect’s office, the job of a construction manager begins. Balancing the budget, hiring the appropriate subcontractors, purchasing materials, and managing the schedule are just some of the tasks involved with steering a project from start to finish. On-time and on-budget are the watchwords for a construction manager, two goals that are well-served not only by practical experience, but also by a solid education that teaches the fundamental skills necessary for the job. Major employers look for construction managers with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field.
Construction managers have an entrepreneurial spirit: four of 10 were self-employed in 2014.
Construction managers enjoy comfortable salaries, with top earners commanding well into six figures a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Construction is closely tied to the overall economy. As the economy improves, some 17,800 new construction jobs are predicted by 2024
More than 100 accredited colleges and universities offer construction-related programs; prospective construction managers may also enter the field through degrees such as architecture or engineering.
Construction Management Degrees by Level
On-the-job experience is key to landing a job in construction management, but it’s also a good idea to have a college degree to back it up. While a high school diploma may suffice for some who have risen through the ranks, many employers prefer to see applicants with a post-secondary degree, explains the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To get experience and certification that increase their employment prospects, students can pursue degrees in construction management at various levels—associate, bachelor’s and master’s—both on-campus and online.
Construction Management Associate Degrees
- Online or on-campus community colleges
- Time to Complete: 2 years
- Career Opportunities: Manager who supervises smaller projects, civil engineering technician, construction and building inspector
An associate degree provides introductory knowledge about the fundamentals of construction management, and is designed to arm students with skills in leadership, time management and critical thinking. To enroll in an associate program, students must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Students should also make sure prospective colleges are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Curriculum combines general education classes with specialized construction management courses, and generally takes two years to complete.
The following shows some examples of construction management courses that students can expect to take at this level:
Introduces the use of surveys in commercial, residential and road construction.
Construction Surveying Fundamentals
Covers the process of estimating the full cost of construction projects. Topics include contracts, bonds and insurance.
Examines the role of the project manager in planning, scheduling and overseeing a construction project through completion.
An introduction to common materials and methods, including foundation work, use of wood and brick, and exterior and interior finishes.
Construction Materials and Methods
Construction Management Bachelor’s Degrees
- Online or on-campus programs at four-year universities
- Time to Complete: 4 years
- Career Opportunities: Project manager, field engineer, scheduler, cost estimator
More in-depth than an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree educates students in the fundamental principles and techniques of construction, as well as communication, mathematics, humanities, and behavioral and natural sciences, in preparation for administrative or managerial careers. Students should seek a university accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology and should expect to complete about 120-180 credit hours in the program.
Here are some examples of specialized construction management courses that students may take during a bachelor’s degree program:
Introduction to the analysis of wood, steel and concrete structures. Covers structural loads and forces, columns, and trussed systems.
Explores economic factors as they relate to decision making, with emphasis on rate of return, net present value, benefit-cost relationships, and multi-objective evaluation methods.
Computer science and engineering examples are used to teach problem-solving through analysis and design. Students learn to interpret and present results from real-world case studies.
Scientific Problem Solving
Teaches the integration of safety and productivity measures into daily field operations through inspection and accountability. Examines accident causes and costs, and techniques to minimize risk.
Field Inspection and Safety
Master’s Degrees in Construction Management
- Online or on-campus universities
- Time to Complete: 2 years
- Career Opportunities: Construction manager for large corporations and projects
Obtaining a master’s degree opens the door to higher-paying jobs and better career prospects as students become experts in the field. Prospective students should already hold a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field and have significant work experience. Students focus on more detailed areas of construction management, such as construction programming, cost control and project management. Programs also prepare students to receive certification as either an Associate Constructor (AC), or Certified Construction Manager (CCM). Master’s degrees usually require about 30 credit hours to complete.
Students should expect master’s-level courses to be in-depth and intensive. Here are some examples of classes students may complete:
Students discuss the theories, principles, and techniques of construction planning and scheduling, with an emphasis on time management, costs, and use of resources.
Scheduling and Project Control
Covers the factors involved with sound decision-making, including identifying and analyzing risks.
Decision Making and Risk Analysis
Explores advanced and emerging theories, tools and techniques used to plan and monitor construction projects and address uncertainties.
Advanced Project Planning and Control
Introduces methodologies, tools and techniques of infrastructure management. Course topics focus on performance measures; deterioration modeling; life-cycle costs; optimization; budgeting and financial management; and policy analysis.
Choosing a Construction Management Program: Must-Have List
Make sure the school offers the level of education you are seeking. Check out professor backgrounds and examine the curriculum to verify that coursework is high-quality and relevant to the field you plan to work in upon graduation.
Employers favor accredited degree programs, as they are independently evaluated to guarantee an education that meets high standards and is applicable in the workplace. Construction management programs should be accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology. ABET provides specialized accreditation for engineering and construction-related programs at institutions that already hold regional or national accreditation. Currently, there are 3,569 ABET-accredited programs at 714 institutions for students to choose from.
While architects and designers handle the majority of the technical aspects of building design, construction managers need to have a solid understanding of the computer programs used. Look for a degree program with a curriculum that covers at least the basics of Automatic Computer Aided Design, ProEst, or other relevant software.
In addition to classroom instruction, prospective construction managers will benefit from real-world experience before entering the workforce. Degree programs that offer opportunities to shadow a professional at work, gain internship experience, or visit functioning construction sites will prepare students for their careers.
Certification is also attractive to employers; look for a program that gears education toward certification and prepares students for technical exams. Although certification is not required to work as a construction manager, holding a title as a Certified Construction Manager (CCM), Associate Constructor (AC), or a Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) can increase job prospects and fast-track your career advancement by demonstrating expertise to employers.
Check schools’ job placement rates to see how many students obtained construction management jobs after completing a program. Researching the school’s alumni network and talking to current students can give you an idea of where graduates are headed after completing their programs.
Opportunities in Construction Management: Careers and Specializations
- Job Growth: 5%
- Annual Salary: $85,630
- Education: Bachelor’s Degree
Construction managers work with architects, cost estimators, civil engineers and other subcontractors to supervise the design, budgeting and production of a project. Managers work in both main offices and on-site field offices to monitor progress and make day-to-day decisions. Salary depends on the industry, company size, location, years of experience and level of education.
Construction and Building Inspector
- Job Growth: 8%
- Annual Salary: $56,040
- Education: High school diploma or equivalent
With a mandate of ensuring safety, inspectors visit construction sites to ensure that projects meet building codes and ordinances, zoning regulations and contract specifications.
Supervisor of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers
- Job Growth: 9%
- Annual Salary: $60,990
- Education: High school diploma or equivalent
General supervision responsibilities include estimating materials needs and ordering supplies; inspecting equipment; ensuring that safety regulations are upheld; and monitoring project progress. Supervisors act as liaisons between contractors and management to coordinate activities and resolve issues. While a college education is not required, a bachelor’s degree typically leads to advancement in the field.
Civil Engineering Technician
- Job Growth: 5%
- Annual Salary: $48,340
- Education: Associate Degree
Technicians assist civil engineers in the planning and design phases of project development. They visit job sites to evaluate conditions and collect and test materials. Employers often prefer technicians to have a degree from an accredited school, but it is not required.
|Rank||State||Employment||Employment Per 1,000 Jobs|
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Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)
Licenses and Certifications
While not required, certification is a distinct advantage in construction management. Both students and professionals are eligible for varying levels of certification that can provide a competitive edge in the field.
CCM certification demonstrates the dedication and knowledge necessary to complete projects in an efficient and timely manner. Obtaining CCM designation requires certain experience and education requirements, as well as passing a technical exam. The Construction Management Association of America awards the CCM title to qualified professionals who pass the examination.
Certified Construction Manager (CCM)
As the first level of certification in the Constructor Certification Program, Associate Constructor designation is ideal for students with a bachelor’s degree in construction management. Applicants must meet education and experience requirements and pass an examination to demonstrate skills in budgeting, communication and management. The AC examination is administered by the American Institute of Constructors.
Associate Constructor (AC)
The second and highest level of certification in the Constructor Certification Program, CPC designation is aimed at those who have established careers and several years of project oversight and construction experience. Certification requires fulfilling education and experience requirements and passing the CPC examination, demonstrating skills in cost control, risk management and ethical decision-making. The American Institute of Constructors grants this designation to construction management professionals.
Certified Professional Constructor (CPC)
Essential Skills and Experience for the Construction Management Professional
Trends in construction management employment are shifting: college education is becoming increasingly important in this field. Many contracting or management firms will only hire those with a construction management degree, which also leads to higher pay and career advancement.
Interning for a professional construction manager allows students to hone their skills and gain practical experience before entering the job market. Graduates who have completed an internship will look more attractive to employers, having some real-world job experience under their belts.
Most construction professionals begin as assistants to established and experienced managers. These positions can last from several months to several years, and are often required as a stepping stone to earning promotions and offers for higher management positions.
Although not required for most construction management jobs, certification as an Associate Constructor, Certified Professional Constructor, or Certified Construction Manager is a way to stand out to employers.
In addition to technical expertise, construction managers use a host of business skills to best manage human and financial resources. A clear focus on the financial bottom-line and project timelines are fundamentals for success as a construction manager.
Construction managers need leadership and communication skills to coordinate with multiple parties and delegate tasks to subcontractors and other workers. Knowing how to successfully supervise workers across all the parts of the process is a crucial skill to the overall progress of construction projects.
Construction managers must have the knowledge and confidence to make on-the-spot decisions in emergency or deadline situations. Serving as liaisons between designers, clients, and workers means that construction managers need to make decisions that can hold up to the criticism of all parties.
Expert Advice from the Field
Kent Hikida – Architect, Professor of Construction Management
Q. What has your job in construction management been like? Pros/cons?
I am an architect and work with construction managers daily on the implementation of projects. The positive aspects of construction management are to work with a team of designers and builders to construct a project and to meet the client's expectations for schedule, cost, and quality. The challenges of construction management are the tight schedules, and managing changes and cost. Good communication is a key to successful construction management.
Q. What skills should students get out of a construction management education?
Construction management students should understand the basics of cost estimating and scheduling. They should also develop good written and oral communication skills. Teamwork and collaboration skills are important, as are leadership skills and the ability to analyze and solve problems. It is also important for students to understand principles of sustainable construction (LEED), and how technology platforms can improve construction outcomes: BIM/Revit, Onscreen Take-Off, Microsoft Project, and PlanGrid/Buzzsaw/FTP sites. It should be noted that the technology platforms are the tools, not the solutions. Solutions are developed through critical thinking.
Q. What skills are looked for when hiring a construction manager or subcontractor?
Most skills can be taught on the job and may vary slightly from firm to firm. The traits we look for when hiring a construction manager or subcontractor are good interpersonal and communication skills, evidence of teamwork and the ability to work well with others, the ability to remain calm under stress, humility (know what you know, and know what you don't know), honesty, hard work, and high ethical standards and a moral compass.