Danny Holstein: My construction career path — from blowing up a bridge at 12 to 4 job offers in college

I blew up a bridge at a construction site when I was 12 years old, it was at that moment when I knew I wanted to work in construction.

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Ten years later, I am well on my way. I am currently in my fourth year in the construction management program at the University of Cincinnati, which combines working semesters with on-campus semesters. To date, I already have four job offers.

Knowing I have a career path upon graduation is a huge relief, especially when you consider that of the nearly 70 percent of high school graduates that go on to college, only 41 percent earn a degree in four years and roughly one in three college graduates (34 percent) are underemployed (meaning they work in jobs that do not require a college degree).

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That’s why I think it’s important for young adults to understand that getting into college is only the first step -- and it’s important to be aware of college programs that can provide a more certain career path upon graduation.

Cutting-edge opportunity

Some people think construction is a dirty job, but that’s far from the truth. The industry is changing. We have robots that can lay brick, drones completing jobsite safety checks, 3D-print materials and other exciting, cutting-edge technologies. 

Some people think construction is a dirty job, but that’s far from the truth. The industry is changing. We have robots that can lay brick, drones completing jobsite safety checks, 3D-print materials and other exciting, cutting-edge technologies.

You also get to work with your hands and build our nation’s roads, bridges, buildings and parks.

The classes I’ve taken on campus focus on technical work in the construction industry as well as the business aspects, like macro-economics, personal finance, business law and management. By the time I get my diploma, I will know how to run large, multimillion-dollar construction projects, including how to create in-depth project schedules and manage complex project budgets and financials.

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I’ve also spent three semesters working at construction companies in Miami and San Francisco, where I’ve gained hands-on experience in the day-to-day operations of construction project management — the exciting aspects as well as the more tedious and challenging parts. And, I’ve stayed engaged with employers through my school’s Associated Builders and Contractors Student Chapter, which builds connections with construction firms, mentors and professional development opportunities.

Construction degrees can include great internship opportunities. The benefits of these are far greater than just getting experience, they are an opportunity for recruiting companies to get an up-close-and-personal look at your potential for their company.

There are many employment opportunities for construction management students, with colleges like mine reporting sold-out job fairs and great job placement results. In fact, since UC’s construction management program first awarded its first Bachelor of Science degree in 1973, nearly every single graduate has had a full-time job offer by graduation.

According to the job search site Indeed, careers like preconstruction manager and construction superintendent were among the top 10 jobs for 2018 -- based on the large number of job postings with salaries of at least $75,000 per year. And, the median pay for construction managers — who make up more than 400,000 of the nation’s 8.2 million industry workers — was $93,370 in 2018.

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This is typical not only of graduates of construction management programs — the construction industry in general is hiring. ABC estimates there are 440,000 construction jobs that will need to be filled just this year, and there are many paths into the construction industry that don’t require a four-year degree.

Craft professionals — like plumbers, electricians or carpenters, to name a few — can enter the field through earn-while-you-learn, continuing education or apprenticeship programs, which can be completed without taking on any student loan debt. And with recent college graduates who borrow to get a degree saddled with an average of nearly $29,000 in student loans, this education model is appealing to young people joining the workforce who aren’t interested in attending college.

Craft professionals have a high earning potential, too. On average, U.S. construction trade workers earn an average of nearly $50,000 per year. There are also many possibilities to advance in the field by learning new skills, taking on new challenges and pursuing new credentials or licenses.

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Whether you’re interested in a four-year degree or pursuing an apprenticeship, there is plenty of opportunity to join and grow in the construction industry. And it’s important that teachers, guidance counselors and parents do more to let young people know about these options.

While there are many college majors with clear career paths like construction management, it’s also OK to take a bit of time to consider education options such as technical education or apprenticeship programs. But either route will give you the hands-on experience to jumpstart a rewarding and well-paying career in construction.

Danny Holstein is enrolled in the five-year construction management program at the University of Cincinnati, and serves as chair of his school’s ABC Student Chapter.