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The Kids Are Alright

Young blood, young blood, I can’t get you out of my mind … .—Leiber & Stoller





I suspect that there are a good many of us old-timer bidmeisters who recall the release of that Coasters hit back in 1957. Surely even more of us recognize that the title to this column was purloined from a 1965 tune of the same name by The Who. The point is not to illustrate what a shameful plagiarist I am, but rather to call attention to the fact that ours is rapidly becoming a profession of dinosaurs. Doubt it? According to several online sources, the average age for a construction estimator in the United States hovers at 45—it’s 48 in Canada. That’s well above the average age for members of all combined professions.




I was awakened to this phenomenon upon attending an American Society of Professional Estimators seminar last week. When I entered the suite, I thought I had mistakenly stumbled into the midst of an AARP conference. I did a double-take on the iced cans of Ensure on the snack table. OK, maybe I could attribute all the graying heads to a premature withering from the daily (and nightly) stress that is peculiar to our ilk. And the bent postures could be due to the days and weeks and years spent bound to poorly designed office chairs, while the predominance of bi-focal eyewear could possibly be explained away by countless hours of peering into computer screens, but let’s face it: This room full of geezers (myself included) was an accurate sampling for the age demographic of construction quantifiers.




The guest lecturer for the seminar confirmed my summation and tossed out another disconcerting but related factoid. Due to the burgeoning nature of the very process of estimating, the demand for more estimators over the next five years will increase by 36 percent, just to maintain the current amount of volume, not to mention an anticipated increase in activity as the economy eventually repairs. Preconstruction has recently developed into something much more involved than doing a takeoff and floating a proposal. Business development, opportunity management, risk assessment, modeling, budgeting, purchasing, team-building and negotiating are all required activities these days in a multi-faceted construction sales department. Common sense dictates that the increased demand, coupled with an aging demographic (think: mass retirements and the inevitable effect of a more final sort of extinction) will result in a serious shortage of bean-counters in the near future.




What is the remedy to this dilemma? It should be apparent: the encouragement of and investment in attracting young, bright, career-minded prospects to our vaunted ranks. A good many colleges and universities have developed excellent programs for the pursuit of a degree in construction management or construction science over the past 20 years or so. Graduates of these programs make superior candidates for induction into our midst. They are bright, tech-savvy, and, having been mentored by some of the best minds in our industry, are already steeped in the intricate preconstruction processes and protocols that our business has developed. And for those of us who are a bit long in the tooth and came up through the ranks before the inception of CM schools, current grads can be a wealth of information with regard to recent innovations (think: BIM). In short, the kids are all right.




But while the infusion of young blood into our profession is the obvious answer to our pickle, some things are easier said than done. The current downturn in the construction industry is well known, and that type of notoriety has become a discouragement for many career-seekers who might otherwise opt for a construction management track. The atmosphere of high unemployment has presented a serious quandary for many recent graduates who have spent four years of effort and no small amount of treasure, only to be greeted by a dearth of opportunity in the job market. Couple this with the highly publicized tailspin that construction has suffered lately, it’s no wonder that students have become somewhat gun-shy about a construction management track.




This is why we estimators must become more proactive in recruiting these fresh prospective quantifiers into our ranks. Yes, it’s sad to say that the lure of the reputed prestige, the unspoken promise of excitement, the rumor of lucrative compensation, and the renown for after-hours activity that our profession enjoys is no longer enough. We must get out the word and counter the myth that construction—and specifically construction estimating—has become a dead-end. After all, it is true that commercial construction has not suffered as deeply as the residential market. And while openings for project management positions have admittedly fallen off, the hungry quest for work has actually generated a demand for more estimators. Combine these facts with our previous reference to the expanding nature of construction estimating and its prospects for job security, we are armed with the necessary information that will bring about that infusion of young blood that our profession so sorely lacks.




Wondering how to go about recruiting? Target those colleges that have construction programs and contact the career center. Sponsoring a booth at a career fair at one of these schools is a good start. Better still, offering internships is a solid way to induct fresh faces (and a good way to take advantage of a valuable resource at a discount). In any case, it is clear that any progressive, forward-thinking commercial drywall firm should aggressively seek young, college-age prospects for induction into its stable of the estimators. Young blood will help you keep your edge.




Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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