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Civil Engineering vs. Construction Management (Yep, again!)

mlgreenmlgreen Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
edited August 2012 in Engineering Majors
Hi guys, let me start off with my background. I'm a union ironworker. I have completed a 3 year apprenticeship and have 6 years total in the trade. For those that don't know what an ironworker is, we do the metal framing (beams, girders, etc.) for buildings/bridges and reinforcing for concrete (rebar). I am a certified welder and hold many OSHA certs as well as government clearance to work in nuke plants. I have worked for Shaw, Bechtel and URS on multi hundred million dollar to billion dollar projects. Currently I'm employed by Bechtel at the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant doing structural ironwork. Although the pay and benefits are pretty good, I can't see me doing physical labor when I'm 40. I have decided to go back to college and finish up my degree. I can't decide between Construction Management and Civil Engineering. Part of me would like to do field inspection and the other part would love to do project management and eventually run a job for a big corporation. I have no interest in design however. UW-Milwaukee is my previous institution and looking at their BSCE program curriculum they don't gear you towards construction management at all. However, MSOE has a Construction Management program but it's also way more expensive. Ideally I'd like to get the BSCE from UW-Milwaukee as it's a degree that's more versatile, but I'm not sure if it would allow me to get into project management since I hear a lot of companies are leaning toward hiring Construction Management grads over CE grads for those positions. I'm also reticent about going for the C.M. degree because I don't want to be stuck doing project management if I find it's not for me. Would a BSCE with a minor in business management be sufficient for getting a job in project managment? Like I said I want to leave my options open so I can better decide what aspect of C.E./C.M. suits me best.
Post edited by mlgreen on

Replies to: Civil Engineering vs. Construction Management (Yep, again!)

  • ken285ken285 Registered User Posts: 3,919 Senior Member
    I'm actually a construction superintendent with a civil engineering education. One of my assignments in recent years was to manage the structural steel portion of a project.

    No interest in design - Is that statement about your career or does that include your education as well? Civil engineering programs are design and analysis heavy.

    Degree versatility - Where did you hear they prefer CM grads over CE grads? Maybe it's region or company specific? My experience, albeit limited to my local area over the past few years, has been that companies prefer engineering grads. Like I said earlier, I have a civil engineering degree and am working in construction management and many of classmates also went into the same field.

    UW-Milwaukee vs MSOE - Have you checked with the schools to see which companies hire graduates from them? My undergrad didn't focus on CM either, but always had CM firms at the career fairs every year.

    Good luck to you!
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 31,310 Super Moderator
    The same is true in our area - companies prefer engineering grads who can get their PEs. Ken, do companies in your area ask for PEs?
  • mlgreenmlgreen Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Hi, and thanks for the replies. I'm just going by experience with working for Bechtel over the years that most of the newer "white hats" aka management I've interacted with are CM grads. Of course these are guys that are in the field working directly with the trades and not really the upper management. As far as design I'm fine with dealing with it in schooling but career wise I don't have any interest in it. That's a great idea to check out which companies have hired new grads for the schools I'm interested in also, I'll look into that. Ken285 did your school teach you anything about construction management or did you acquire that skill on the job mainly? Like I said I'm hoping a BSCE with a minor in business management along with my journeyman status and experience will set me on track to project management.
  • LuckDragonLuckDragon Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    Just thought I'd offer my two cents for what it's worth. I attended North Dakota State University in a program called Construction Engineering which is a hybrid between CE and CM. It is an ABET accredited curriculum and, as such, enables you to sit for the FE and PE exams which may be a lucrative option if at any point you decide you would like to take that route. Having said that, I worked in a construction management role for Hensel Phelps earning about $40k in 2003. I also received job offers from Mortenson, PCL, and Western Summit (in 2003). My biggest complaint was the expectation from these large CM firms that you will move wherever they tell you, whenever they tell you. Management employees typically had major relocations on an annual basis. My wife earned more as a pharmacist right out of school than I will ever make with any firm, so that is not an option for me. As far as design work goes, a college degree is worthless at this point in time. Unless you already have a PE license and design experience, don't waste your time even trying to break into that branch. If you can find a hybrid degree like this, it will probably afford you more options in the future and many executive level positions prefer PE licensure.
  • ken285ken285 Registered User Posts: 3,919 Senior Member
    I work for a purely construction management company, so they do not ask for a PE. If you're eligible to get your PE, they do encourage it however.

    My undergrad had a single elective in construction management, but I feel it was enough for a solid foundation to work in this field. I just build on top of it, learning things as I go. You surely know this already, but there's no amount of schooling that can replace field experience.

    If you work for a firm that does a lot of heavy construction for large infrastructure projects, you probably will need to move pretty often just because the projects are far in between. That's one of the reasons I opted for the buildings industry instead, where projects are concentrated in metropolitan areas.

    As far as salaries go when starting out, you very well may make more money as a union ironworker. But like you said, it's a lot less labor-intensive.
  • ctcm2014ctcm2014 Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    Same story here except I'm a Union Carpenter. I'm currently serving an internship as a project engineer for a general contractor. I'm glad I went for CSTM rather than CE. I was going for CE because I had the same dillema you are facing. CSTM is much easier and interesting because it typically includes management and business courses and actual real-world construction skills and less theory as in engineering. I feel that I will be a valuable asset to any construction company with my 5 years as a Union Carpenter plus a Bachelors in Construction Management. I'm now considering getting an MBA and that should make me very marketable. I'll probably just start my own business anyway. All companies are different, but so far, what I don't like about being a project engineer intern is too many hours in the office in front of a computer. I would like to be out in the field regularly or out and about meeting with owners, engineers, architects, etc. Anywhere but the office. Why spend years as a CE designing with hopes of someday getting into management when you can just go for CSTM and be in management from the start?

    Good luck! Go for your passion. You will learn more if you're actually interested in what you are studying and can see real world significance in it.
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