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Tom Goodhue
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Career Descriptions

Foreman | Survey/Field Engineer | Constructor | Project Manager | Superintendent | Estimator | Construction/Project Engineer

Foreman

NATURE OF WORK

A foreman supervises and coordinates the work of a crew of workers in a specific craft or trade. Foremen are primarily concerned with seeing that the workers under them do their job skillfully and efficiently, and that assigned work progresses on schedule. They deal with the routing of material and equipment, and with the laying out of the more difficult areas of the job. The work requires quick, clear thinking and quick onsite decisions. Foremen should have a broad working knowledge of a craft; must be able to read and visualize objects from blueprints; and should have an eye for precise detail.

WORKING CONDITIONS

Working conditions for foremen can vary greatly depending upon the craft line being supervised. However, the great majority of work will be onsite and out of doors, often resulting in prolonged standing, as well as some strenuous physical activity.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

To become a foreman, a craftsman must illustrate an above average knowledge of all faces of a particular trade and do noticeably good work consistently. A foreman should have the same basic aptitude and interests as those working in the craft being supervised, plus additional reading, writing, and math skills. The ability to motivate workers and communicate with both them and superiors is essential. A foreman must often lead by example.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

Being an entry level/first line management position, a foreman who exhibits solid rapport and communications with his or her workers and superiors; who leads by example; who has outstanding skills and trade knowledge; who gets the job done properly and on schedule; and who works to improve his/her management skills will often be in line for promotion into a supervisory position. With the proper background and initiative a foreman may progress to a superintendent, general superintendent, vice president, or even an owner of a construction company.

Survey/Field Engineer

(Rodman, Chainman, Instrument Man, Party Chief)

A field engineer or surveyor normally supervises a crew of workers known as a survey party. Within the typical survey party is a rodman who holds the leveling staff while measurements of distance and elevation are made; a chairman who helps measure distances with a surveyor chain; an instrument man who adjusts and reads instruments for measurement (level, transit, laser, calculators/field computers, etc.); and a party chief who directs the work. Frequently the party chief and field engineer or surveyor are one in the same. Before any other work begins on a jobsite, a survey party must first establish the legal boundaries of the land upon which the work will be done. After the job begins the survey party measures and records distances and elevations that tell the contractor exactly where a new structure or system will be located. This can be critical to proper construction. Each member of the survey crew must perform-n his or her duty with patience and precision. Surveyors generally work outdoors.

WORKING CONDITIONS

Those who work on a survey party should enjoy outdoor work as nearly all their time is spent in the field. Field conditions vary depending upon what is being surveyed and the area where the survey is being conducted. Survey party members can work on bridges, tall building, tunnels, and in dense forests, city streets, mountains, and deserts. A great deal of walking is necessary, and some climbing may be required -- while carrying survey equipment. Most survey work is done in the summer, but it is not unusual for a survey party to work during the winter months.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

For a party chief a high school diploma with emphasis on sciences and math should be considered the absolute minimum. Mechanical drawing and geometry should be considered as essential classes; algebra and trigonometry are important. While some members of the survey party can perform their task without any additional education, further training such as a two-year degree in surveying, mapping, or landscape architecture is clearly recommended for advancement. Modem surveying requires-the use of lasers and computer aided measurement instruments. The ability to read and understand blueprints is essential to the field engineer/surveyor.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

Rodmen and chairmen may advance to instrument men by learning to use transits and levels, and other electronic measurement devices. An instrument man may in turn advance to party chief (field engineer), where he or she will supervise the crew and record notes from the survey. After years of experience, the party chief (field engineer or surveyor) may become a job or project superintendent. A party chief may also take an exam to become a registered land surveyor and can then start his or her own business.

Constructor

NATURE OF WORK

A constructor is an individual who utilizes skills and knowledge, acquired through education and experience, to manage the execution of all or a portion of a construction project. The constructor can be involved in building many types of facilities including, but not limited to, commercial (i.e., office buildings and shopping centers), institutional (i.e., hospitals and schools), industrial (i.e., factories and refineries), residential (i.e., homes and apartments), and civil (i.e., highways and utilities).

A constructor is primarily employed by or works as a general (or prime) contractor or a sub (or specialty) contractor. One can also find constructors working in other types of organizations such as construction management firms, architectural/engineering offices, material suppliers, governmental agencies, financial institutions, and for users of construction which have their own in-house construction management personnel.

Because the typical construction project is comprised of many different types of personnel, equipment, materials, and activities, the constructor must possess a wide variety of skills and knowledge. These include being able to read and interpret architectural/engineering drawings and specification; understanding and complying with numerous local and state building codes, legal requirements, and construction standards; understanding and adherence to a variety of construction conditions and contractual requirements; efficiently estimating costs, and scheduling all or a part of a project; and the performance of management duties required to effectively coordinate and communicate with all members of the construction process.

The work environment of a constructor is varied, ranging from work in comfortable permanent offices to working on the project site in a small temporary office. Constructors spend a great deal of their time working with the project designers (owner representatives), clients (owner), and with other constructors, foremen, and/or other employees who are responsible for the day-today work in the field. Writing and reviewing reports in order to discuss work schedules and progress can consume a large portion of the constructor's time. Extensive travel is not unusual.

Constructors typically work long hours, and must meet critical production deadlines. Weekend work is common.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

The vast majority of today's constructors are college educated, and those planning a career in construction should strive for a baccalaureate degree. While the construction industry will always require many persons educated solely as architects, engineers, or in pure managerial skills, the most effective education for constructors, at all levels of managerial responsibility, is a meaningful synthesis of general education, math and science, construction design, construction techniques, and business management at the undergraduate level. Typical construction program courses include mathematics and English, history and economics, physics, strength of materials, structural design, mechanical and electrical systems, materials and methods, planning, estimating, scheduling, technical report writing, contract documents, business management, and contract law.

Degrees in Construction are now available at over 100 colleges and universities. Although they may have different titles all are generally classified as Construction, Construction Science, Construction Management, Construction Technology, Building Science, or Construction Engineering. The American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) accredits pure construction degree programs while the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET) accredits construction engineering and construction technology programs. In 1991 there were 30 ACCE accredited programs. There are also three construction engineering programs, and about 45 construction technology programs accredited by ABET. Entrance requirements range from average to above average high school grades and scores on standardized tests (i.e., SAT,ACT). Students may transfer to construction degree programs from two-year junior and community colleges.

Although higher education is desirable, the construction industry remains one of the few American industries where one may start with little formal education and still reach the top by becoming a chief executive or owner of a construction firm. This path to the top, from trainee, to craftsman, to constructor, requires hard work and a great deal of personal dedication, and it becomes more difficult as technology advances.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

New graduates usually begin employment with construction firms as assistant estimators, assistant project managers, or at some other mid-management position. As such, they are immediately involved in the day-to-day operations of the firm or a construction project. Responsibility comes quickly, and advancement is relatively rapid in this fast paced occupation. However, it takes many years of experience and responsibility before a graduate is considered an accomplished constructor.

Project Manager

NATURE OF WORK

The position of project manager is sometimes the same as that of a general superintendent or project superintendent. The nature of a project manager's work is, therefore, very dependent upon the Firm’s organizational structure, the firm’s size, and the number or size of projects the manager works with. Generally speaking a project manager is employed by larger firms. He or she is an individual capable of overall management responsibility for delivering a construction project from its conception until it functions as it was intended. The project manager must be capable of establishing performance and delivery criteria for approval by the owner. If one's firm is involved in project design work the project manager may be responsible for directing the production of basic design plans and construction documents. Estimating, start up, scheduling, actual construction, expediting, inspection, quality control, and total delivery of the project according to the established criteria are aspects of the project manager's job.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Most project managers have many years of experience as a construction superintendent. Generally, contractors have selected their project mangers from among the superintendents or occasionally foremen who demonstrate leadership and a working knowledge of construction operations. A college education is very desirable, although it is not necessarily essential for some firms. At many firms it has become a requirement, and a number of schools offer construction management degrees which combine construction procedures with administrative principles. A project manager must have a good understanding of construction methods, materials, scheduling, and blueprint reading, as well as knowledge in communication skills.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

Project managers are usually considered top management, and often become principal officers of their construction firms. On occasion, project managers start their own company.

Superintendent

There are many types of construction superintendents and their job titles, job descriptions, and responsibilities vary a great deal from one company to another. This can be confusing, and there are no hard fast rules or definitions which apply to all construction firms; all construction projects; or all supervisory positions. A general sequence of titles is indicated below, but it must be noted that many are used interchangeably, and duties will vary by firm and project(s) size. The thing to remember, therefore, is that the position of "Superintendent" involves increasing degrees of responsibility and authority - regardless of the title.

NATURE OF WORK

Generally speaking, a job superintendent or project superintendent is the contractor's representative at a construction site. The superintendent directs and coordinates the activities of the various trade groups such as Carpenters, Equipment Operators, Iron Workers, etc. - on site. Responsibilities include making sure that the work progress according to schedule, that material and equipment are delivered to the site on time, and that the activities of the various workers do not interfere with one another. The superintendent supervises all these activities by talking with and directing the foremen for the different trades or craft workers. Some of these foremen and their workers may be employed by the superintendent's own construction company, while others may be employed by other companies working on the job.

As stated, the responsibilities of a job and/or project superintendent are often the same. Yet, in some instances either one (especially the project superintendent) may be over the superintendent(s) in charge of a specific job site’s activities e.g. grading. In the same sense, a general superintendent (often found on larger jobs and/or with large firms) may have duties similar to the project superintendent mentioned above, but with an even broader range of responsibilities. A general superintendent might direct the work on a number of construction sites with those superintendents reporting to him. A "Project Manager" is another construction occupation title for a position which again may overlap and, on occasion, be used interchangeably with general, project, or job superintendent. A review of the definition for Project Manager might be helpful.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Most superintendents have many years of experience in one of more of the construction trades. Generally, contractors have selected their superintendents from among the foremen who demonstrate leadership and a working knowledge of their craft. While a college education is not necessarily required, it is helpful. A superintendent must have a good understanding of construction methods, scheduling, and blueprint reading, as well as a basic knowledge of communication skills. Demonstrated leadership ability is essential.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

Depending upon the size of the firm (and the job titles used by that firm), job or project superintendents may become general superintendents. Superintendents often become principal officers of their construction firms, and on occasion start their own company.

Estimator

NATURE OF WORK

The estimator’s job is important in every construction firm. Every type of project requires an accurate and comprehensive estimate of the amounts of materials, equipment, and labor necessary for the construction of the project. Estimators work with the engineer's and architect's drawings or blueprints to prepare a complete list of all job costs, including labor, material, equipment, and specialty items necessary to complete the project. Knowledge of construction techniques and proper scheduling of purchases and work are essential skills. Estimator work is generally in the office, but some field coordination is often required. Estimators may be subject to considerable stress in the days and hours before an estimate or bid is submitted, so the ability to work accurately and quickly under pressure is needed.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

An estimator needs a good background in mathematics including algebra and geometry, and drafting, blueprint reading, and English. Neatness and accuracy are important. Most estimators combine junior or community college courses in construction and engineering technology with on-the-job training to acquire needed skills. With the increasing use of computerized estimating systems, computer literacy in becoming another much needed skill. College, although not a definite requirement, should be considerable for early advancement.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

The estimator's familiarity with the plans, specifications, and materials of a construction job provides excellent preparation for a position as project manager. Indeed, the owners and officers of many construction businesses received their initial industry experience as estimators.

Construction/Project Engineer

NATURE OF WORK

The terms construction engineer and project engineer normally relate to the same person or job function. Construction engineering is the application of engineering, management, and business sciences to the processes of construction, through which designers' plans and specifications are converted into physical structures and facilities. The construction or project engineer is a professional constructor who engages in the design of temporary structures, site planning and layout, cost estimating, planning and scheduling, management, materials procurement, equipment selection, cost control, and quality management.

These processes involve the organization, administration, and coordination of all the elements involved in construction - labor, temporary and permanent materials, equipment, supplies and utilities, money, technology and methods, and time - in order to complete construction projects on schedule, within the budget, and according to specified standards of quality and performance. Depending upon the size and complexity of a project, the construction engineer may be responsible for one to several jobs. This means that travel to many different work sites is part of this occupation. Many project engineers work on-site in temporary offices and spend a good deal of time out of doors, planning and checking work.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Construction engineers must have a strong fundamental knowledge of engineering and management principles, and a knowledge of business procedures, economics, and human behavior. Students who wish to pursue a career as a construction or project engineer should concentrate on math and science courses, and must earn above average grades in high school. A bachelor's degree is virtually required for this career, and students must be very careful in selecting an accredited academic engineering degree program with a major emphasis or concentration in construction. Those who do not concentrate in construction engineering at the undergraduate level may return to school for a master's degree in engineering management or business administration.

ADVANCEMENT POTENTIAL

Construction engineers typically begin their careers in a training capacity - as engineers-in training. They may begin as assistants to project superintendents, project managers, estimators, or field engineers. Advancement and responsibility are quickly earned for those who excel. It is not unusual for construction engineers to be in total charge of small projects within five years of employment. Construction/project engineers frequently become the chief operating officer of construction companies.

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