Digital Builder Ep 62: Debunking the Biggest Construction Career Myths

If you do a quick Google search for "top 10 hottest careers" or "best jobs in 2023," you'll find that construction rarely makes the cut. There could be several reasons for this. Many people still view construction as a highly traditional, old-school industry dominated by men. Perhaps others see it primarily as a blue-collar industry that doesn't pay well. 

But if you're someone who works in the construction industry, then you know that this isn't the case. Today, construction offers exciting opportunities to leverage cutting-edge tech and collaborate with amazing people. 

Even better news? Construction pros are becoming more vocal about the perks of working in this industry. Just ask our latest podcast guests - Savy Francis, a pipefitter with E.M. Duggan, and Kelsey Gauger, National Director of Operational Excellence at Suffolk Construction.

Savy and Kelsey enjoy rewarding and meaningful careers in construction, and in this episode, they discuss their rich experiences in the industry, along with the innovation, diversity, and growth opportunities that make construction an excellent career choice for many. 

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On this episode 

We discuss:

  • The evolution of construction technology and how it makes life easier for teams.
  • The biggest misconceptions about construction careers. 
  • How the construction sector can overcome common barriers and attract fresh talent. 

A day in the life

Savy and Kelsey have different job descriptions, but one thing they have in common is their dynamic day-to-day experience. No two days are ever the same. 

For Savy, her day starts at the job site, where she works closely with the foreman and other team members. 

"There could be ten or more guys on the job, so we're looking at the blueprints, making sure we have stock for the piping, whether it's a Schedule 40 pipe that needs to be welded or Vic pipes that need to be clamped."

Savy continues, "Each person may have a different task; for example, one person may be doing copper lines for a fan coil unit, and another person may be welding something in the shaft. So there’s just so much that goes into it."

Kelsey, on the other hand, handles technology and processes. Like Savy, she works with  many different people each day, including Suffolk's data team, IT personnel, architecture teams, and more. 

"Collaborating across all those different facets means a lot of day-to-day work with those groups," says Kelsey.

She also spends time at the job site to better understand the needs of Suffolk's field teams. 

"What are the solutions that are working? And how can we break down those traditional barriers of being isolated on a single job site? We're collecting those lessons and ensuring those are coming back to the center and then going back out," Kelsey adds.

Despite their varied roles, Savy and Kelsey's day-to-day highlight the importance of collaboration. Construction isn't just about building structures; it's about building bridges with teams and working collaboratively to achieve better outcomes. 

The evolution of construction tech

Our conversation also touches on the topic of technology and how digital solutions are making life easier for teams. 

Savy recalls her first experience with a digital construction management platform and how it opened her eyes to the possibilities of streamlining processes and enhancing on-site collaboration.

"I never knew what [this tool] was. I realized it's like the blueprint inside of a machine. And it's crazy how if something doesn't seem right, they can just call the office, and everything just gets updated right then and there." 

Savy continues, "Technology is just taking over everything. The jobs are going quicker because of technology."

Kelsey agrees. Like Savy, she's seen massive productivity gains with technology, particularly at Suffolk, where they've developed custom solutions. 

"I think it's incredible the strides we've made from a technology perspective to enable digital collaboration and produce custom-developed solutions that we can give to our trade partners."

Kelsey remembers her early responsibilities of taking progress photos, which entailed a lengthy process of capturing, uploading, labeling, and finally posting them to a central project management system. This used to take hours, but the process has become efficient and streamlined with the introduction of platforms like the photo documentation tool OpenSpace.

"It was a great learning experience, but to see us come from having three to four hours of unproductive time to where we are today [is incredible]. We've actually scaled a solution that solves that problem and scaled it to every single job," shares Kelsey. 

These tech advancements are critical, especially with the labor challenges the industry faces. It's more important than ever to augment our labor to save time and let people do what they do best.

Construction career misconceptions

Speaking of labor challenges, it's no secret that many folks don't consider construction as their dream career. And a lot of this could be due to some outdated misconceptions and myths. 

Myth: construction is too difficult

According to Savy, many people thought she was crazy for wanting to enter construction. "I remember people saying, 'You're 5'2", you're little, and it's going to be hard."

But if there's one thing construction taught her, it's the value of working smarter, not harder. "This is not hard work at all. I was always instilled and told by one of the journeymen I worked with, 'Don't say can't. If I tell you to pick up a 10-foot piece of pipe that's 3 inches thick, come back and let me know you need help. But don't tell me you can't.'"

Myth: it's not a promising career for women

Savy also says people shouldn't discount how supportive construction workplaces can be for women. 

"I worked on the job site until I was eight and a half months pregnant. So, I was on light duty, but it wasn't hard for me either. Being aware of what I was doing prior to my tasks helped me know I would be safe on the job site. Plus, everything's there; E.M. Duggan gives you the correct PPE, the right harnesses, etc."

Myth: the industry is antiquated

Kelsey weighs in and says that many people view construction as antiquated and slow-moving. 

"I feel like that's so wrong. The buildings that we're building today are so sophisticated and physical feats in a lot of ways. We're building them with time-strapped deadlines and compressed margins, and we're still able to do it."

Kelsey continues, "We have people working so hard in the field to stand these buildings up, and they're leveraging incredible technology. Everything gets built digitally beforehand, which is amazing. It all gets coordinated."

"All of those pieces have to come together and get executed flawlessly,"

Myth: construction roles are linear and siloed 

"People tend to think about construction in a very linear fashion," says Kelsey.

She notes that people outside the industry may think that construction roles (i.e., engineers, architects, designers, etc.) only work on their specific project areas without coordinating with others.

But as anyone who's worked in construction knows, effective projects aren't linear or siloed—they're highly collaborative. 

As Kelsey puts it, "To build that digital model, the trade partners have to be at the table. The architect has to be at the table. The GC has to be at the table. The engineer, the owner, everyone has to come together."

She adds, "The reality is that buildings get designed, coordinated, and executed with all of those stakeholders and with all those people supporting, and there's roles beyond that."

Myth: there are limited areas of interest

Kelsey also wants to bust the myth that construction has limited areas of interest. 

"As I mentioned, there are data scientists and data engineers who are looking at projects, gathering insights, and ensuring that we're getting smarter on the next job. There are people in operational support roles who are training the next generation. There are people that are building those BIM models, and there are VDC coordinators."

She continues, "There are so many different roles that contribute to the success of a project. There are endless areas of interest."

The limited view that people have about construction roles deters them from getting into the industry, which highlights the urgent need to drive awareness around the rich construction careers that our industry has to offer. 

Overcoming blockers

The misconceptions mentioned above are major blockers that prevent people from considering a career in construction. 

As far as what we can do as an industry to overcome these barriers, Savy and Kelsey bring up several strategies.

Talk more about the great pay and benefits of working in construction

"A lot of people don't talk about the benefits and pay," says Savy. And this is something that she highlights when talking to students. "I let them know, 'You will end up retiring from the trades with an annuity and a pension. Once you hit that retirement age, you'll have something where you'll be able to live comfortably.' 

"Plus, the insurance is just amazing. I was able to have my child, and the bill was around 90 grand, but my portion was zero."

Emphasize how empowering construction can be at a personal level

There's also something to be said about the empowering feeling that comes with knowing how to do various construction tasks independently.

Savy says, "You'll have some knowledge to build something. I'm a pipefitter, but I pay attention to the other trades around me."

"It's like, 'Oh, this is something I can do. My husband and I can do this ourselves instead of paying for the labor and all this other stuff.' And once the kids realize that I catch their attention, and they end up reaching out to me afterward to find out about Building Pathways, the pre-apprenticeship program, or other vocational schools."

Engage students in schools

Still on the topic of students, both Savy and Kelsey agree that we need to double down on student outreach. 

"Going to the schools, talking to the students, and sharing those experiences and those stories... I don't think that's been done enough in the past. And I think that's an essential part of getting the next generation on board," remarks Kelsey. 

Invest in R&D

Talented people are attracted to innovative and forward-thinking industries, which is why it's so important that firms invest in research, development, and innovation. 

Kelsey says, "It came from a McKinsey study at some point in time, but you'll hear that 1% of revenue from construction gets invested in R&D. And you compare that to the healthcare industry, which I think is closer to 15% or technology, which is over 20%."

She encourages construction leaders to invest more in "what the industry could look like, not what it looks like today."

This is something they focus on at Suffolk.

"A big piece of that is investing in innovation and technology and being willing to take a chance on a startup or be willing to take a bet on an employee with a different background that wants to solve problems and change the way the industry works."

She continues, "When you get a lot of people with that mindset together, you can do incredible things."

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. To learn more about Savy and Kelsey, be sure to catch the full episode!

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.