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Careers In Construction

You've got the skills;now nail the job

By Nancy Smay - Decision Times

Maybe you've never overseen a construction site or installed a communications network in an office building.

Thing is, you already may have a great start toward a career in construction.

Leadership skills and technical expertise learned in the military are a great start toward jobs across the building industry, said Chris McFadden of Turner Construction, which employs about 5,800 people nationwide.

Construction as a whole accounts for some of the highest numbers of workers among U.S. industries, with 7.7 million jobs as of 2006, not counting the 1.9 million builders who were self-employed.

McFadden and two fellow experts in the military-to-construction career transition offered the following advice for landing five of the field's fastest-growing jobs:

1. Cost estimator

People who served as financial management technicians in the military have a good shot at landing this lucrative position, said Mary Hart, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard and a design studio vice president for the Dallas architectural firm Corgan Associates.

A cost estimator determines the cost, scope and duration of construction projects using engineering knowledge, financial analysis and construction experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

• Projected growth: 41,000 jobs, or 19 percent across all U.S. industries, by 2016.

• Average pay: $50,797.

• Training you need: Most estimators hold a degree in construction management or construction science with a wealth of experience and hands-on training.

• Interview tips: Be ready to offer specific examples of projects you've worked on and discuss how your cost estimates stood up to final costs, McFadden said. This is a coat-and-tie position, at least when it comes to the interview.

2. Construction manager

Military construction engineering supervisors and construction mechanics often possess the skill set needed to work as construction managers in the civilian work force, Hart said.

Construction managers oversee all aspects of a construction project, from planning to hiring contractors.

• Projected growth: 77,000 new jobs by 2016, a 16 percent rise.

• Average pay: $45,217.

• Training you need: Managers usually hold a degree in construction science or have substantial construction experience, rising through the ranks over a period of years.

• Interview tips: This job is a juggling act that requires diplomatic skills and strong managerial chops, McFadden said. Prepare to discuss your supervisory skills and project management experience in the interview. And because this position requires interaction with a wide variety of people, the interviewer will expect to be charmed by your personality. Be approachable, friendly and professional. You'll need a coat, tie and shiny shoes for this one.

3. Telecommunications equipment installer and repairer

Service members with experience as multichannel transmission systems operators and maintainers, signal support systems specialists, network maintenance technicians and IT techs are in demand for these private-industry positions, according to the Credentialing Opportunities On-Line Web sites run by the Army and Navy.

Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers work with the complicated equipment needed to keep companies and homeowners connected via phone, computer and radio.

• Projected growth: 8,800 new jobs, or a 39.6 percent increase within the construction industry, by 2016.

• Average pay: $49,306.

• Training you need: Employers generally require familiarity with computers and training in electronics through military service, trade school or post-secondary education, depending on the position.

• Interview tips: Be prepared to discuss the specific telecommunications training and experience you received in the military and demonstrate how it will benefit your prospective employer, Hart said. It never hurts to wear a tie to the interview, even if you won't be wearing one on the job.

4. Roofer

Service members with a building specialty easily qualify to be roofers, an occupation that's usually learned on the job, said Darrell Roberts, executive director of the nonprofit Helmets to Hardhats program, which helps service members find jobs in the construction industry.

Roofers repair and install roofing using a wide range of materials.

• Projected growth: 22,000 jobs, or 14 percent, by 2016.

• Average pay: $33,188.

• Training you need: On-the-job training is the norm. Unions and contractors offer apprenticeship programs.

• Interview tips: Roofing is hard work, so be ready to attest to your physical fitness level and expect to offer examples of your roofing experience. If you've never worked in roofing, prepare to discuss past responsibilities that show you'd be a valuable employee, Roberts said. You'll likely meet a contractor at a work site, so khakis or nice jeans and a button-down shirt with boots should suit you up nicely.

5. Welder, cutter, solderer or brazer

Military metal workers and machinists already handle the tools used by welders, cutters and solderers on civilian construction sites, according to the Credentialing Opportunities On-Line Web sites.

Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers cut or coat metals using manual, semiautomatic or automated equipment and require formal vocational training for those who haven't already received it in the military.

• Projected growth: More than 7,000 new jobs in the industry, or 17.6 percent, by 2016.

• Average pay: $35,035.

• Training you need: Formal training through vocational or trade school or the armed forces is the norm.

• Interview tips: You'll most likely be asked about your training and experience, Roberts said, so have some examples of prior work in mind before you go. No three-piece suits here — a collared shirt and khakis or clean jeans should do the trick.

(Job projections and training information are according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average pay is according to CBsalary.com.)

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