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Young Blood

Every industry needs a steady infusion. Construction is no different. How will AGC’s new blood — raised on technology and modern communication — absorb the knowledge of the old and drive the engines of progress to shape the future?

“Youth is wasted on the young,” the old saying goes. But lest we forget, the leaders who for the past several decades have grown the construction industry to where it is now, were once “noobs,” too. A zillion things may have changed as our elder statesfolk have moved through the cycles of their careers — from the massive machines that move earth at the jobsite to the pocket-sized devices that move our messages through the airwaves — but the energy and enthusiasm that young people bring to the table hasn’t changed at all.

How will this new class of construction professionals — and the seasoned vets who lead them — harness this power? And where, as batons are passed, will it take the industry?

Even if methodology sometimes separates generations, the madness for seeing projects come together surely unites. Much like their predecessors, many of the industry’s Millennials recognized their passion for building early on, but find that their career paths are highly varied and seldom linear.

“I have liked building things since my childhood,” says 32-year-old Hisham Said, Ph.D., associate professor for Santa Clara University’s Department of Civil Engineering, whose love for Legos and Play-Doh was only the beginning. Once ensconced in study at the University of Cairo, he fell into what was then a new field of study: structural engineering.

“It dealt with designing buildings,” he explains. “Mainly steel, concrete, masonry.” But post-grad he found he missed the dynamic environment of the jobsite and shifted into construction management, “where contractors and managers and engineers solve day-to-day problems on-site.”

Eventually, however, his love of putting complex concepts into simple words led him back around to the classroom, where he helps shape the leaders of tomorrow. Said was an AGC Education and Research Foundation faculty intern during the summer of 2013 with Blach Construction, an AGC of California member. For more information on the AGC Foundation’s Faculty Internship Program, please see click here.

Similarly, Lynnsee Turner, a 2011 AGC Education and Research Foundation scholarship recipient, began her tenure at the University of Oklahoma with one career in mind: architecture. “Three weeks in, I realized it wasn’t for me!” she laughs. “But I still wanted to be part of the ‘build’ environment.” Turned out that OU also offered a degree in construction science. She never looked back.

“It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. “I gained internships in both my sophomore and junior years, and received job offers my senior year.” After graduating in 2012, she took a job with JE Dunn Construction, a member of multiple AGC chapters, in Oklahoma City. Her first project? A multimillion-dollar hospital. She’s since moved on to the company’s Houston office, where she works as a project engineer, assisting multiple managers in completing projects city-wide.

“Construction has been the most interesting, challenging and rewarding career I could have imagined,” she says.

Jose Buenrostro, also a 2011 AGC Education and Research Foundation scholarship recipient, began his career as a laborer on small-scale projects. Now, at 33 years of age, he’s a multi-certified project manager for DPR Construction, a member of multiple AGC chapters, in Redwood City, Calif. The 10 years behind him have led to supervisory engineering roles on $80 million ventures.

Kyle Pennington’s time in the mechanical engineering program at Texas A&M was short-lived. “The construction science degree with a path toward construction project management was what I had
imagined growing up. It was a great fit.” Upon his 2004 graduation, he took a job in Dallas and later, San Antonio. He prides himself on being a “do anything” type of guy, sliding easily into all kinds of roles: estimator, project engineer, assistant project manager, business development. When tapped for a project manager position with Sabre Commercial in Austin, an Austin Chapter-AGC member, he happily jumped at the opportunity. He had just turned 33 at press time.

So, why construction for this new generation? Reasons vary, but overlap. Ryan Abbott, science and technology group leader at Sundt Construction, a member of multiple AGC chapters, in Tempe, Ariz., met his wife, Martha — an architect — on a project, and believes that everyone deserves a tangible product for their life’s work. “I show it to our kids. It’s a real place that we and many others created together …. We all deserve to walk among the chapters of our lives and know that they happened. That it was real.”

Abbott, 35, poetically calls association involvement “the connective fabric, the conduit and the backbone” of a young executive’s path. Pennington would likely agree.

“I would not be in the position I’m at in my career without it, and I’m very grateful that each company I’ve worked for has supported and encouraged my involvement. From learning more about my trade through courses to helping me overcome my nervousness in public speaking, the benefits have been huge.”

Association involvement, says Douglas Tabeling, a 35-year-old construction lawyer with Smith, Currie & Hancock LLP, a member of multiple AGC chapters, is invaluable for anyone. “AGC offers specific opportunities for leadership and personal development and opportunities to learn from others’ experiences. It broadens perspective.”

At 30, Dave Vivio, project manager for the Troy, Mich.-based O’Brien Construction, an AGC of Michigan member, credits his company’s owner, Tim, a past president of their local chapter, with encouraging participation. “SCAN [Student Contractor Awareness Nights] is a big event, and since joining the Construction Leadership Council and its Future Leaders program I have gotten more involved.”

Turner, too, is involved with the CLC. “It’s been imperative for networking, allowing me to meet industry leaders and get a better understanding of how the industry works as a whole,” she says.

Vivio notes that longtime leaders in AGC are very interested in the younger executives’ input, something he very much appreciates. “I have felt embraced,” he notes, “and have taken every opportunity to learn from them.”

A wise move, Buenrostro, might say. In college, it was AGC workshops — Qualified SWPPP Developer, LEED and others — that helped shape his career path to this day. “I’ve seen young professionals make the mistake of thinking they know it all … but a degree doesn’t replace 30-plus years. The construction industry is one where apprenticeships are widely accepted and encouraged in every trade; it’s the same for management positions. If you’re motivated and hungry to learn, there will always be someone willing to share their knowledge.”

“In school,” says Turner, “you learn the ‘textbook’ way of doing things, but in the field, there are multiple ways of solving different issues …. On [my first project], I had the pleasure of working with one of our in-house MEP experts who had been in the industry for more than 40 years. I gained more knowledge in working alongside him for three months than I had in a year’s worth of classes.”

“New graduates are years beyond where I was when I started my career,” says Henry Meier, 51, who worked his way up from sweeping floors in his dad’s cabinet shop at age 6 to a college job in the family’s kitchen and bathroom remodel business. Now a project executive with Swinerton Builders in Sacramento, Calif., an AGC of California member, he’s been with the firm since graduating college in 1988.

“[Today’s] young professionals are better prepared to enter our industry because of internships, mentoring and the concerted efforts of industry organizations like AGC, DBIA, local builders exchange groups, building trade organizations, advisory committees and the Sacramento Construction Management Education Foundation.” Meier developed the SCMEF’s model to mentor students by engaging industry pros to coach California State University Sacramento’s construction management teams competing in the ASC [Associated Schools of Construction] Competition. Worthy of note: the CSUS CM department has had 100 percent job placement for its students for two consecutive years.

As a result of such industry involvement, he says, students entering the workforce are not only prepared to contribute faster than before, but come with something older professionals may not have: an arsenal of tech-based skills.

“They know how to use standard software applications better and learn new applications faster,” he notes. But, says Said, inexperience’s disadvantages (he cites a larger workload and less pay as examples) come with nontech perks, as well. “Everybody wants to help and support a ‘greener’ construction professional,” he notes, “as everyone has enjoyed — or wished they’d enjoyed — similar support early in their careers. Also, people almost expect rookies to make mistakes, which should make younger folks more open to trying new tricks at work!”

Youth brings with it exuberance, says Said. “Young construction professionals have more energy and fresh passion with less life worries and commitments. Younger staffers often have the time and desire to get as involved as possible in order to learn and acquire more skills.”

SCMEF board member Meier believes mentoring is everyone’s fundamental responsibility, but also that industry mentors learn a great deal from their students. “I personally have learned a ton!” he says, citing student-prompted exposure to new construction technology companies like ConXTech, which created a chassis-based modular building system and exciting new cloud-based software such as Prezi. “Additionally, I learn a tremendous amount from doing research … listening to the expert guest speakers we bring in to present to the students, as well as from other coaches.”

Turner, at just 23, hopes to follow Meier’s lead right out of the gate. “Every day I learn something new and am challenged to think outside the box …. The ability to drive past a building and say, ‘I was part of the team that built that!’ is a great reward my peers and I have.” She hopes to mentor the next generation and pay forward all she’s been taught thus far.

Like Turner, Meier finds excitement in seeing the fruits of his labor — even if his wife and kids sometimes tire of his project-pointing on family drives. So, too, does Abbott, who meets some of the country’s leading scientists in his role constructing their laboratories. “I’ve always been inspired by the monuments of man … that tell a story about the culture, its values, its dreams and its history. I can map out the years of my career with the places I’ve helped create.”

No older generation, he says, “looks over their shoulder and says, ‘You know this upcoming generation really has it all together.’ No younger generation looks up at the older without seeing some of the mistakes made along the way. Whether young or old, make no mistake about our industry; collectively, we are the problem solvers, the doers, the innovators … we create jobs and, when you get down to it,
there is not a thing in the gross domestic product that does not come through the construction industry, from the factories that build it to the roads and ports that transport it, the laboratories that design it and the universities that teach it.”

There shouldn’t be an intergenerational tug-of-war, says Pennington, because the new ideas and senior experience are the perfect combination. “The industry needs a healthy mix of both to move forward.”