From building city freeways to laying the foundation for suburban housing complexes, the field of construction is a vital, ever-expanding contributor to our global society. It’s also an extremely profitable one.
Within the multi-billion-dollar industry, there is an abundance of fast-growing careers, and construction management roles in particular are projected to increase 11 percent in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plus, it’s a sector in which job candidates can secure competitive compensation: In 2021, the median salary for construction managers was $98,890.
To learn more about the field’s burgeoning career opportunities and what you can accomplish with a master’s degree in the subject, we spoke with Henry Koffman, a professor in the Master of Construction Management (MCM) program at USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
What is Construction Management?
Construction managers are responsible for every step of the building process, including planning, budgeting, supervising and coordinating.
While many construction managers are employed in the residential and commercial sectors, they’re also needed for public and industrial projects. No matter the industry, they ensure a building project is safe, successful and runs smoothly, from inception to completion.
“Construction management really is exactly what it sounds like: You’re managing the construction process. But it is a fairly new discipline for the profession,” Koffman told USC Online. “It started after World War II, when we began developing our infrastructures, and our purchases became bigger and more complicated. We needed the actual professional management of infrastructure.”
The MCM degree at USC Viterbi (available both on-campus and online via DEN@Viterbi) prepares students to become leaders in construction and real estate. It also concentrates on the business side of the industry, allowing students to develop a firm grasp on project nuances so they can build structures in a secure, cost-effective manner.
“I like to think of it as you’re pursuing a [more focused] MBA … Construction is the second largest industry in the U.S. The only industry that is bigger is health care,” Koffman explained. “What we’re doing is really training our people to be engineers and professional managers, as the construction industry is very complex with a lot of moving parts and different trades, scheduling, costing and so forth. We teach a lot of management tools in our program.”
What Jobs Can You Land With a Construction Management Master’s Degree?
With a master’s degree in construction management, a multitude of jobs open up in areas such as construction project management, facilities operations and maintenance, sustainability and information technology, among others.
“There is a huge demand for our graduates. It’s a great field to enter, and they can pursue all kinds of jobs. They go into government work. They can work for an owner, a developer, general contractors or subcontractors, which we now call trade partners,” he cited.
Just a few job titles include:
- Construction project directors, who supervise large construction projects and manage the various teams, departments and construction managers involved in the build.
- Field engineers, who are responsible for solving building project issues and ensure efficiency throughout the construction.
- Sustainability consultants, who analyze and provide feedback to construction companies on their environmental impact.
- Construction superintendents, who oversee the day-to-day progress and operations on the construction site.
- Site engineers, who focus on site-specific tasks such as land issues, building locations and safety requirements.
Some graduates choose to further supplement their degree by attending law school — providing litigation support for those in construction and real estate — or break into the finance side of the business via mortgage or banking. Others have branched out to work as consultants aiding multiple organizations.
“It’s a very wide net with lots of areas they can choose to go into,” Koffman said.
While students can choose to excel in construction manager roles, they can also go on to thriving jobs in real estate development, project management, architectural engineering, or building and design management.
When it comes to specific companies, recent graduates of the MCM program have been hired by AvAirPros, Jacobs Engineering Group, Turner Construction Company, MTM Construction, Inc., Saudi Aramco, Suffolk Construction and more.
What is the Construction Management Program Like at USC?
For those interested in pursuing a degree in construction management, USC offers a unique, interdisciplinary program created with participation from five schools: USC Viterbi, USC Marshall School of Business, USC Gould School of Law, USC School of Architecture and USC Price School of Public Policy.
As all of those school specializations reflect, the MCM program combines many different disciplines. But at its heart, the program focuses on preparing professionals to understand both the technical and non-technical aspects of construction management.
Students can expect to take classes like “Project Controls,” “Construction Practices,” and “Construction Accounting, Finance and Strategy.” Electives include courses on contracts and law, construction estimating, engineering, sustainable design and management, data management and more. There are also courses available that are more focused on real estate in which students can learn about the industry’s foundations as well as how to analyze real estate projects and negotiations.
A construction or engineering-related bachelor’s degree is not required to enter the program — in fact, USC Viterbi welcomes a diverse educational background, as long as it’s from an accredited institution with a satisfactory GPA.
What Type of People Thrive in the Construction Management Field?
Of course, a career in construction management isn’t the perfect fit for everyone. To truly excel in the field, passion for the work itself is a top requirement. Leadership skills are also key, Koffman noted, as is curiosity and a willingness to learn.
“Communication skills are very important to thrive in construction management, both written and oral, and being able to grasp new ideas and be able to apply them to your work is also so important,” Koffman added.
When it comes to advice for prospective students, Koffman emphasized that those looking to enter the program should focus on applying their classroom learnings to their real-world positions and projects.
“There are a lot of opportunities in the field, and it’s up to you to learn so you can grow and take advantage of them. With the program, students can be prepared for any issues that arise in their careers and deal with anything,” he concluded.
Learn more about the Master of Construction Management program (available online and on-campus) today.