Change is inevitable. And, with four generations in the current workforce, never before has change been more profoundly observed in the field of engineering than it can be today. Our profession is in transition as boomers prepare for retirement and companies prepare, develop and transition younger employees into role of increased responsibility.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the nation’s infrastructure. In its most recent assessment, ASCE estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed over a five-year period to bring our infrastructure to a “good” condition. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has stated its military construction program that over the next five years totals $40 billion, which represents the largest program in the Army’s history since World War II. Add in the $10.3 billion USACE civil works program, and there is no doubt that the construction industry is in transition.

Federal, state and other public-sector agencies traditionally deliver projects using owner construction management with similar goals: deliver the highest quality projects; stay within the budgets authorized; and deliver by the needed dates. Owner construction management must begin a transition toward obtaining assistance from industry by the use of construction management services or the transition to agency construction management.

William Van Wagenen, CCM, Chairman of the Construction Management Association of American, reports four critical trends for the construction management industry over the past ten years: technology; a growing talent shortage; evolving and expanding project delivery strategies; and better recognition and definition of construction management.

Technology
More than one-third of construction project and program owners who responded to the most recent CMAA/FMI Survey of Owners indicated that they have used building information modeling (BIM) on one or more projects. USACE is placing emphasis on standardization of designs and setting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design goals for its military construction program.

CMAA is updating its Standards of Practice in three new areas—risk management, sustainability and BIM— in response to trends in changing technology.  Again, new skills and new standards are rapidly unfolding that transition our workforce and our responsibility to lead and set the example. 

Growing Talent Shortage
USACE has initiated a pilot for a national recruiting program to quickly identify and meet critical staffing needs. This program seeks to demonstrate its effectiveness in staffing critical disciplines identified at a national level. USACE has identified shortfalls for construction managers, quality assurance representatives, project engineers and resident engineers. To bridge the shortage of talent the plan is not just looking at new graduates and interns but is focusing on mid-career candidates from outside the public sector.

During the Society of American Military Engineers’ (SAME) 2008 Joint Engineer and Training Conference, a panel of construction-industry representatives voiced concern that construction management contractors may not be qualified to evaluate the specified procurement method and the government needs to demonstrate construction management contractor qualifications in the request for proposals. These concerns echo the need for caution as public agencies performing agency construction management struggle with critical staffing recruitment efforts or supplementing themselves with construction management services.

In today’s competitive environment, we must evaluate ourselves and our employees by putting into perspective the long-term goals for our profession. Define priorities and look for opportunities to improve. Lead by example; serve as a role model to the team while setting high, but attainable expectations. By demonstrating our own personal commitment to tasks, we will set the standard by which others can follow. 

Federal agencies are adopting the CMAA Standards of Practice into their day-to-day practice of agency construction management. By making a decision for their construction leaders to obtain construction management certification, a new standard for which other owners can strive is set. Regardless of the project delivery method used, public-sector construction managers benefit from following professional construction management standards of practice throughout the design and construction phases of all projects. Construction management certification responds to the trend of understanding and defining construction management for all phases of the project.

Recognizing the growth in current and future construction programs will soon exceed its current staff of construction managers, USACE is looking to construction management services contracts to supplement its owner construction management staffing. Contracts are offered and selected based upon best value evaluations of qualifications and past performance. A qualification criterion gives preference to Certified Construction Managers (CCM).

Evolving and Expanding Project Delivery Strategies
There continues to be a growing trend in public-sector construction away from traditional design-bid- build project delivery methods. Partners, customers and cost-sharing agencies are all expressing concern with the quality, final cost and schedule resulting from a project delivered by the lowest bidder. Changes, claims, delays and increasing complexity of market conditions are driving the need for alternative project delivery methods.

As a result, project delivery of military and civil programs is moving to design-build, construction management at risk (CM@R) and early contractor involvement (ECI) methods. Watching these changes, many public-sector owner construction managers are struggling with their changing roles and struggling to obtain the skills required to coordinate the efforts of the designer and the contractor or design builder to meet the expectations of partners or customers.

Better Recognition and Definition of Construction Management
Today’s engineering and construction leaders have realized that training and mentorship is essential in developing tomorrow’s leaders. SAME and USACE are working to leverage Army and SAME assets to foster interest in engineering and technical studies. SAME is creating paths for future leaders by sponsoring students to its annual Engineering & Construction Camps, where students learn engineering solutions and skills from professional engineers.

Construction divisions within USACE are creating a new culture of construction management certification for professional construction managers. The benefits of adopting the CMAA body of knowledge, standards of practice and core competencies enhance the ability of USACE to deliver projects and programs to military construction customers and civil construction partners. CMAA’s CCM designation constitutes a solid knowledge base for enhancing the professionalism of the construction management industry. The strategic alliance among SAME, CMAA and USACE is a foundation model for all agencies and firms looking to foster a culture of CCM certification.

The CCM certification designates individuals who have demonstrated competency in education experience, responsible charge and ethical practice. The CCM process becomes the platform for requiring continuing education for construction manager practitioners. Regardless of our past or the number of large programs, major projects or other construction management work our future must prepare for new challenges ahead.

Owners and construction managers will always face change. Our industry is adapting, but, more importantly, we are facing change with programs designed to respond to critical trends. It is essential that we continue to recruit and train talent and that we develop new skills and leadership in construction management. Local SAME Posts sponsoring CMAA Standards of Practice courses, mentoring students and other new initiatives such as the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment’s “Building Great Engineers” campaign are just a few examples of trends we must continue to pursue and support.


Larry J. Smith, P.E., CCM, F.SAME, is Area Engineer, Sacramento District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; 530-677-4627, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..