Project management and graduate school?
July 31, 2008 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Construction Project Management and Graduate School; do these go together? I have been accepted to the construction project management program at IIT but before I sign myself into penury, I want to get some feedback from others. Is this a good idea? Will having this degree actually be helpful? etc etc

I have to be brief because I am going to be late for work, but this is the quick and dirty breakdown: I have been working as a carpenter for the last 12 years or so, mostly doing theatre and commercial art construction. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in someone else's shop, and I'm not sure that my body will last much longer anyway (bad back). I look at project managers and I'm pretty sure I can do what they do. I've tried running my own business, but my lack of business training shows (poor estimating and not charging enough being the biggest problems) and that whole thing is going to fail if there aren't some changes made. I had some financial classes in college, so have an idea of what is wrong, but am not clear on what needs to happen to make my situation go. And then I came across the program at Illinois Institute of Technology. It looks pretty good, and they seemed happy to have me (or at least I was accepted with a minimum of fuss).

The question is when I come out of this program in a year and half, will the piece of paper be worth anything to someone looking to hire me? Will the information I learn be helpful in making my own business ventures more successful? (that last is probably up to me, but I'll throw it out there anyway) Let's assume for the moment that I am tempermentally suited to PMing, so it's just about the training. I can give more details as required, but not until this evening...
posted by schwap23 to Work & Money (8 answers total)
The best people to talk to about this are the project managers that you work with. I have done some construction project management and it can be tricky. It is the sort of career that requires a lot of experience to become really competent. To get that you first must get your foot in the door. Other than people who built their own businesses the people I know who do this mostly started out as engineers. That is hardly necessary from a knowledge point of view, but it may play into hiring, also my direct experience is with really large construction/engineering firms. The 1 1/2 year program will likely give you lots of practical knowledge, but to be competent you likely still need to work with somebody to learn how it is done in the real world. The question to ask these managers is whether they or their bosses would perceive your extensive industry experience in the trade combined with the course as a sound basis for hiring an entry level project manager. As far as your own business ventures go, I am pretty sure this program would be helpful.

Is this the program? That looks pretty good. If so I definitely think it would be of great help to you in entering the field.
posted by caddis at 7:12 AM on July 31, 2008

It can help if you are looking to change careers. But the fact that you will be moving into a new area of expertise may not help. It should give you the background you need for managing any large scale construction project but programs like these are geared towards larger scale projects and not small scale which you may do if you are starting your own business.

Decide on the type of jobs you want before you enroll. It wouldn't hurt to see the education/experience required for those positions.
posted by JJ86 at 7:20 AM on July 31, 2008

I've been working as an estimator, project manager and occasional superintendent for about 25 years for the same company. We do almost exclusively commercial and institutional work, especially schools. My actual college degree is in Civil Engineering. Most of the project managers I run into come from seem to have a 4-year BCN or some kind of engineering degree.

The short answer to your question is I think so. The reason I hesitate is because I'm not familiar with any ITT graduate project managers. Also, from the TV commercials I've been seeing for it, I get the impression that they are mostly focused on single family residential work, which I have very little experience in. You didn't mention which kind of construction you were interested in.

(I'm at work on a school project, and so far it's taken me about an hour to get this far in the reply, I keep getting interrupted every 5 seconds. This should have taken about 10 minutes tops.)

Anyway, the school of hard knocks project managers are a dying breed, construction companies are going to be looking for a minimum standard of competence, including an understanding of the paperwork flow, architect/owner relations, (interruption), basic computer skills, construction means and methods, etc. So, without prior project management experience, the paper would be your foot in the door.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:33 AM on July 31, 2008

I think the greatest value to you would be if you decide to try pursuing your own business venture again. The curriculum looks like it includes courses on estimating that will give you a solid basis on which to make bid decisions (breaking down to unit costs, production rates, etc.) and looks comprehensive as far as schooling on construction methods, labor management and legal issues.

If you're looking to get a job with another company, I think you'll find the paper to be of little value compared to actual experience. You'll be armed with the knowledge and a grasp of the fundamentals, but you'd probably end up starting at the very bottom as an assistant pm and having to work your way up. In my experience, most people would take the track of getting the assistant pm job (or the step below), then going for the certificate to complement their on-the-job experience to enhance their upward mobility. Nonetheless, you will have a head start with the book smarts, and if you can readily and accurately apply that to the lower positions, chances are you'll move up faster than without it.

On preview, ditto caddis.
posted by undercoverhuwaaah at 7:34 AM on July 31, 2008

I have a friend with that degree (but from a different school), who has been working in that field for about a decade. He loves it, and gets paid very, very well.

However, he really struggled for a long time to find stable work -- he kept getting employed for the length of a project, but then when the project was over it was "last hired first fired" and he was back looking for work. A lot of smaller and mid-sized construction firms are family-run, which mean that the stable positions are going to sons and nephews, and there is no chance of internal advancement.

Eventually he got on with one of the really big companies (think Haliburton, etc) and that has been really good, with amazing benefits, open pathways to advancement, and really good wages.

He, like you, came out of a construction background, and says that that really helps when talking with the trade guys, who are often really irritated by architects and engineers who don't understand the actual building process. He has a lot of instant credibility just by having done the same work, while the advanced degree gives him the path into management.

So the field can be good -- your real question should be whether that is the right program or not for you -- do they have a good reputation in the area you will be looking for work, good connections, the right specializations, and so on?
posted by Forktine at 8:15 AM on July 31, 2008

I work as a engineering project manager for a large company, here is what I think.

The degree will definitely be a valuable asset, it will teach you all the basics about cost management, project planning, estimates, etc. A potential employer will look at the degree and your knowledge of the actual workplace as a huge boon; finding competent graduates is easy, finding one with actual hands-on experience is very rare and very valuable - however don't expect a high salary at first, though if you are a hard worker, and able to learn from your mistakes, your salary should go up very quickly.

Finding work though will greatly depend on the availability of work in the field in your area; I work in the province of Quebec and there is a huge surge in construction projects right now, so demand for project managers is very high.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:42 AM on July 31, 2008

Thanks for all the replies! The basic tenor I'm getting is that it's probably a good thing, depending on a number of outside factors, which is a fair assessment. I have been thinking pretty much the same thing, but hearing it from others is reassuring...

And for the record, the school is Illinois Institute of Technology, not ITT. I tried to post a link in the original post, but it didn't work. Trying again:

You know, if that link was a physical object, I could get it to work for sure!
posted by schwap23 at 5:16 AM on August 1, 2008

Ah, an actual university offering actual university degrees, not a "technical institute." In that case the answer is "hell yeah."
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2008

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