How to Become a Construction Manager - Education, Experience & Certification

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Construction managers are a lot like air traffic controllers, but instead of managing activities in the air, they manage those on the ground. Many facets contribute to a successful construction job, regardless of whether it is a large infrastructure project or a small remodel. Construction managers bring all aspects of the job into focus and unison, from labor to budgeting to materials to safety.

A construction manager must be a jack of all trades, in that he or she must understand all facets of a construction job, including the technical, business, and legal aspects. Candidates must be good leaders, managers, organizers, and planners. Different construction paths include residential, commercial, and industrial, while specializations range from sustainable design to construction accounting to building information modeling.

After the completion of a degree program, candidates may have different career paths available to them, including opportunities in both real estate and construction. Job titles may include construction managers, real estate developers, architectural engineers, or general contractors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020), growth in the field of construction management is above average:

Median pay (2020) $95,260 per year / $45.80 per hour
Typical entry-level education Bachelor’s degree
Number of jobs (2019) 476,700
Job outlook, U.S. (2019 to 2029) Eight percent projected growth (faster than average)
Employment change, U.S. (2019 to 2029) 40,400 jobs added

While a bachelor’s degree is a typical point of entry for construction managers, the following educational degrees may make one more qualified for the role.

Here are the typical steps to become a construction manager:

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma may be the highest level of education for some construction managers—especially older ones with many years of work experience. While this may have been an acceptable route in the past, these workers are often better suited as general contractors in today’s world. As the building and construction trade becomes more complex and technical, degree programs are becoming more of a necessary and expected route of entry for the profession.

However, there are budding opportunities in non-traditional high schools and career technical programs that offer young people exposure to multiple facets of the construction management world. Courses in building trades, engineering, electrical, and other subjects are a great option for those interested in construction management.

Step Two: Earn an Undergraduate Degree (Two to Four Years)

There are two common academic pathways to becoming a construction manager at this stage:

Online Associate Degrees in Construction Management

More than 50 two-year colleges offer associate degree programs in construction management and construction technology degree programs. This path combined with work experience is often typical for construction workers on smaller projects.

Ashworth College

The online construction management program at Ashworth College offers the opportunity to continue working while earning an associate degree. Tuition fees include textbooks, academic support, a mobile app for learning on the go, a student portal for access to lessons and support, online libraries and labs, digital access to research and our resources, and an active online community of fellow students, staff, and alumni.

Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Construction Management

Many construction managers enter the field through different avenues. However, it is becoming more common—and even necessary—for these professionals to have specific degrees in the field. According to the BLS (2020), more than 100 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in construction and building sciences and construction engineering.

Courses may include project control and management, design, methods and materials, cost estimation building codes, and standards and contract administration. Classes in business, statistics, mathematics, and architecture are also relevant.

Everglades University

This bachelor of science (BS) degree in construction management is available online or on-campus. The 123-credit program typically takes students 41 months to complete if pursued full-time. Courses include construction law, cost estimating, and OSHA standards, to name a few. Students are prepared to sit for the LEED Green Associates exam which offers certification in sustainable design, construction, and operation.

Indiana State University

Indiana State University offers a bachelor of science degree in construction management at their Terre Haute, Indiana campus and online. The program features a management-oriented focus, with special emphasis on the environmental impact. Students welcome hands-on experience through internships, and extracurricular activities are encouraged including competitions, a construction club, and Sigma Lambda Chi (the construction honorary society).

University of Minnesota (On-campus)

The University of Minnesota offers a bachelor’s degree in construction management with four available tracks: commercial construction, facility management, highway heavy and civil works, and residential construction.

The program is especially known for its internship program which boasts a 75 percent success rate in full-time jobs garnered. Students may also have an opportunity to study abroad through the program. The school offers many resources for mentoring, tutoring, and campus and community activities, and a strong alumni association provides great opportunities for networking.

Rowan University

Rowan University’s online bachelor of arts degree in construction management provides those with an associate degree (or a minimum of 60 college credits) the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in this growing field. Nearly 100 years old, Rowan University has received endorsements by various building trade unions.

The program offers credit for prior work experience and courses completed at other accredited colleges and universities. It is also known for its fully online seven-week accelerated courses in the major.

Step 3: Complete a Master’s Degree (Two Years, Optional)

A handful of universities offer online master’s degree programs in construction management.

Clemson University

Clemson University offers both a certificate program and a master’s degree in construction science and management (MCSM). Accredited by the American Council for Construction Education, the MCSM program was launched in 1986 and the online version of the program was launched in 1992.

Recognized by many national construction organizations including the Associated Contractors of America and the National Center for Construction Education and Research, the program has a thesis and non-thesis option and those graduating from it are eligible to apply to Clemson’s doctorate program in planning, design, and the built environment (PDBE).

University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering offers a graduate degree in construction management to qualified working professionals who have completed an accredited undergraduate degree from an American college or university. The 30-hour degree can be completed in 12 to 19 months online and all students pay in-state tuition. The GRE and GMAT are not required for students applying for admission with qualifying bachelor’s degrees.

Norwich University

Norwich University offers an online master of business administration with a concentration in construction management. Highly ranked by the U.S. News & World Report, the program offers four start-dates with no GRE or GMAT requirement. Coursework includes project finance and accounting, project scheduling, strategic resource management, and effective communication. The convenient online platform allows completion in as few as 18 months.

Other Resources & Construction Management Certifications

American Institute of Constructors

The AIC is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) which is responsible for national guidelines strengthening the U.S. market while ensuring health and safety for consumers, workers, and the environment. AIC offers two certifications:

The Associate Constructor (AC) is the first level of certification typically pursued by recent graduates of four-year degree programs in construction management or those transitioning into construction management from other industries. Each AC must agree to follow the AIC Code of Ethics and is provided with marketing resources to promote the certification.

The Certified Professional Constructor (CPC) is the top level of certification by AIC’s Constructor Certification Program and is designed for established constructors. Consumers, businesses, and other organizations often look for this level of certification to assure the highest level of professionalism and experience in construction work.

The Construction Management Association of America

The CMAA is also accredited by the ANSI, and the Certified Construction Manager (CCM) designation allows clients to know that the professional they are hiring is knowledgeable about the latest in construction management techniques. Quality and ethics are highlighted throughout the program while also focusing on controlling time, cost, and quality.

CMAA also offers a Construction Manager-in-Training (CMIT) program which allows aspiring construction management experts to launch and further their careers by taking coursework through CMAA’s capstone course “An Introduction to the CM Profession.” The course is designed to complement education and work experience but also focus on information that may not have been obtained through formal academic training or experience. Perhaps even more importantly, the program allows budding construction management professionals to connect and work closely with CCM mentors to create and manage development plans.

LEED Certifications

With the focus on sustainability and lowering environmental impact in today’s world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the leading green building certification worldwide focusing on energy and material efficiency. Not only can projects and buildings be certified by LEED, but professionals may seek a LEED certification. A LEED credential shows proficiency in the leading sustainable design, construction, and operations standards. Both LEED Green Associate and LEED AP with Specialty are optional certifications.

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