Can You Become a Construction Manager Without a Degree?

Contractor Tips , Posted by Charlotte Smith on

Can You Become a Construction Manager Without a Degree?

If you're looking to become a construction manager, you might be asking yourself: Do I or do I not need a college degree?

While there are many jobs in construction that require college-level education, from HVAC technician to elevator installer, a construction manager is not necessarily one of them. Your job search may go quicker if you have a degree to your name, but there are many cases in which a college degree is not a requirement to become a construction manager.

From finding an apprenticeship program to meeting a mentor who can guide you through the proper channels, there are many paths toward becoming a construction manager. Discover them here in this comprehensive guide. 

Do Construction Project Managers Need a Degree?

The most important thing you need to become a construction manager, or a CM, is experience. You can get that experience in one of two ways:

  1. Acquiring it through a four-year degree program in a field like construction technology or a specialized area like project estimation;
  2. Gaining experience in the traditional way: by getting a job or apprenticeship.

The median income for a CM is around $97,000. The lowest-paid 25% of all CMs make approximately $75,000, and the best paid of them all make around $128,000. The truth is, even if you work your way up without a degree and can do the job just as well as anyone else, having that four-year Bachelor's degree might entitle you to a higher salary.

The reason is that if you have a degree, customers and construction companies will see you as someone capable of performing tasks beyond the routine tasks of a CM. You need various skills and knowledge to create work schedules, manage a project team, scope a project, supervise site managers, hire subcontractors, and monitor project finances. With a degree, you may be able to assist architects and engineers rather than simply direct them.

How to Become a Construction Manager

If you want to become a construction manager, there's no singular path to take to get you there. You can get a degree or not, get placed in an apprentice program or not, and pursue becoming an assistant construction manager or not. Working CMs today may take all or none of those steps.

But in this guide, we've laid out every step to give you the best sense of all the opportunities available to you as a trainee CM.

1. Get an Apprenticeship at a Construction Firm

The construction business is a complex one that is evolving all the time. It's hard to keep track of all the ebbs and flows unless you're experiencing them on a daily basis. 

Becoming an apprentice at a construction firm is a great first step for aspiring CMs because you'll get plugged into the ins and outs of the business. You'll hear first if an entry-level job is opening up at a firm across town. You'll also interface with potential new clients of your own each day as you assist the firm with their contracts.

Apprenticeship programs are available through the federal government, so they're pretty easy to find. But even if your local construction firm doesn't have a formal apprenticeship program, it's worth inquiring within, as if you show dedication and willingness, they may create a position for you on the spot. 

2. Optional: Pursue a Degree

It was easy to climb up the business without a college degree in the old days. These days, as processes become more complex and more contenders flood the market for jobs, having a college degree helps you stand out amongst a sea of competing candidates. 

Getting your college degree doesn't just certify that you're well trained already in a variety of required duties, from accounting to carpentry to rudimentary architectural design. It shows that you have the dedication to make it through a grueling four-year commitment. 

Construction can be a rough business, and demonstrating that you can see demanding challenges through to completion is invaluable.

3. Find a Mentor

It will be easy to find a mentor if you get an apprenticeship program at a construction firm. They'll likely be the CM there. It's even easier to find a mentor if the firm where you land an apprenticeship is on the smaller side. If you have easy access to your CM and show an eagerness to be involved in every job, they'll start scheduling you on every job. 

You may be on your way to replacing them before either of you know it.

4. Gain Experience

Once you land a position, paid or unpaid, at a construction firm, start taking on every job that you can get. 

Make sure to diversify your experience. Don't just focus on carpentry or architectural design. Experiment with flooring, cabinetry, masonry, roofing, and painting. 

5. Get Your Certification

Even if you get a college degree in a field related to construction, getting your certification in your specific trade will go a long way. Trade certifications are universally recognized and appreciated by those who do the hiring.

Generally, you'll need to accrue somewhere between three and five years of experience before you take your state or county's test. Make sure you don't get overly confident and skip out on preparing for the test. Certification tests are notoriously challenging. It's why they look so good on a resume. 

Most states offer free, comprehensive test preparation guides, like this one from the California Contractor's State License Board.

6. Become an Assistant Construction Manager

After you've completed your apprenticeship program, received your degree, and earned your certification, or some combination of the three, it's time to get a job. 

Thankfully, construction is a field where even internships are paid positions. But the pay for those positions doesn't even compare to the income earned by assistant construction managers. 

Hiring managers will want to see that you have project management experience; know how to read plans, drawings, and specifications; have time management and organizational skills; and manage a team. Experience as an assistant CM can help you achieve all of that. 

What Skills Are Required to Become a Construction Manager?

A few core skills are necessary for construction managers to do their jobs. 

Leadership

The first core skill is leadership. As a construction manager, you are a team leader before anything else. People report to you, expect directions from you, and come to you with problems and questions.

You might think the job is composed of actually constructing and renovating buildings. But honestly, most of your time will get eaten up by communicating with your team. You are the glue that holds the entire project together.

Communication

If you don't have communication skills, that leadership role will fall flat quickly. The way a manager effectively manages their team across projects is by communicating.

Communicating includes mediating conflicts, resolving sophisticated technical and social issues, acting as the liaison between clients, vendors, suppliers, site managers, and your employees. You have to maintain your cool under pressure because there will be a lot of it.

Computation and Analytics

It's not just soft skills that you need. You also need technical proficiency to excel as a construction manager. 

A huge part of construction is modeling and design. Along with calculating building specifications, these are highly complex processes that require training and experience. 

If you don't bring these skills into the interview room for the CM position, you may have no hope of landing the job.

Risk Management

Construction is all a game of risks—risk that the investment won't pan out. Risk that there will be an injury on the job site that will imperil the whole project. And so on, and so on. 

Managing risk is the duty of the construction manager. Using computational models and plain old intuition, you must constantly navigate a sea of risks on any given job and know how to delegate duties accordingly.

Leading Your Team

Construction management is all about leadership. You can get your degree, earn your experience, and get your certification. But real leadership excellence comes from simply doing the job.

It's something you have to earn. With or without a college degree, you can become a great leader if you remember one thing: you have to listen to your employees. They are the backbone of the whole operation, and without them, there would be construction to manage.

Ready to start studying and prep for a lucrative career? Check out Contractor Training Center for resources on construction jobsite management and more.