Posted on Jun 12, 2008
John M Grau
The Academy of Electric Contracting held its annual meeting at a resort near Austin, Texas, last week. The working group session at the meeting featured a presentation by Dr. Cindy Menches of the University of Texas.
The subject was “Hiring the Next Generation of Project Managers.” The most interesting part of the session was when Professor Menches brought in a group of five graduate students from the university’s Construction Management program to sit on a panel. These students were out interviewing for jobs and they gave us some insight into what’s important to them in a job search.
The first question to the panel put everything in perspective. When asked what they knew about electrical contracting, their answers indicated that they knew basically nothing about our industry. The University of Texas doesn’t have an Electrical Construction program. The lesson to us is, if we want to attract young talent from universities, we need to promote an Electrical Construction curriculum as part of the Construction Management degree program.
Some years ago, NECA, working through ELECTRI International, developed an Electrical Construction management curriculum. It’s being taught in a number of universities around the country. The best way to get the program initiated into your local university is to form a NECA Student Chapter. We have 15 right now and we hope to double that number in the next few years.
Some other interesting insights from the student panel at the Academy meeting focused on what’s important to these students when interviewing and accepting job offers.
Money, of course, is important. But my sense is that NECA electrical contractors can be competitive in this regard.
More problematic may be dealing with the issue of company reputation. One of the students was very frank in admitting that a big factor for him was being able to brag about the company he works for when he gets together with family and friends on a weekend. By this, he meant that if he works for a big-name company like Bechtel or Exxon, his friends will think of him as being important as well. It’s harder to explain what Tri-State Electrical Service Company is.
This isn’t meant to degrade our industry in any way. We just have to do a better job of making prospective management talent aware of our industry’s unique advantages. For one, a project manager of an electrical contracting company can become a significant player in a project — and in the company. He may also have a good chance of running or owning the company some day. He or she may only have a bit part in a big-name company.
We can also promote the fast growing and more technical nature of electrical construction. Many young people are attracted to companies that provide cutting-edge environmental solutions. Professor Menches said that in her opinion electrical contractors are the most professional of the construction trades. We need to capitalize on that.
All in all, the Academy working group session was very enlightening. I’m encouraged that our industry has a good chance to attract some of the best talent out of our nation’s Construction Management programs. But we have some work to do if we want to beat the competition.