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August 4, 2022

Building careers while building buildings

  • There is no one-size-fits-all path into a career in construction.
    Skanska USA Building


    The growing diversity in the construction industry and within our own company is something that we at Skanska are particularly proud of. Every day on jobsites and in our offices, we see more people of color, more women, more young people, more people who have chosen construction as a second career, and more who have taken non-traditional paths into the industry. Because of that, we are a more creative, resilient, stronger company and industry.

    Just like every construction worker is one of a kind, there is no one-size-fits-all path into a career in construction, especially given the diversity of roles available across the broader architecture, engineering and construction industry, and even within our own company.

    While many roles do require a college education, just as many begin with a high school diploma, a willingness to learn, and hard work. Many senior-level employees here at Skanska and in the larger industry began their careers in the construction trade, for example, as a carpenter apprentice, before becoming a journeyman with apprentices working under them, and then moving on to higher levels of leadership.

    Apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and other learning and career growth opportunities continue to afford the more than 7 million men and women in the construction industry — people of every race, creed, and national origin — a well-paying future with good benefits. Skanska has several programs in place to help bring awareness to the many career choices that exist for people interested in the construction industry.

    Photo courtesy of Skanska [enlarge]
    Skanska and AAMA earlier this year hosted a Youth in Construction event that included a tour of Sound Transit’s L-300 light rail jobsite in Lynnwood.


    When working with school districts and administrators, we often hear how great it would be if we were able to help show students the wide range of careers available in our industry, as many students have no idea the breadth of roles available. Many assume that the construction industry is populated primarily by folks who excelled in the industrial arts (aka, “the shop class kids”).

    In 2021, Skanska established a partnership with the Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA) at Seattle Public Schools, forming Skanska’s Youth in Construction program. The partnership is designed to raise awareness of and bring equitable access to career paths at competitive salaries in the construction industry.

    Since then, Skanska and AAMA have hosted three highly successful Youth in Construction events, which showcase the breadth of careers available within the industry, including jobs that literally can take them around the world.

    Through Youth in Construction, AAMA and Skanska are helping showcase roles including civil engineers, building information modeling technicians, environmental health and safety officers, estimators, quality control professionals, superintendents, project managers, financial managers, marketers, human resources professionals, labor relations specialists, apprenticeship coordinators, and, yes, tradespeople — carpenters, ironworkers, plumbers, electricians, HVAC specialists and dozens more.

    Many students have no idea how extensive the construction industry really is. Building a building is complex and it takes an extensive team of people working together utilizing their diverse skill sets to make it all happen. We want to make sure these kids understand that and can envision a future where they’re the ones designing, engineering, and building the next school, airport, highway, office tower or shopping mall.

    To that end, this summer, Skanska’s inaugural class of high school interns will begin a groundbreaking new program with us. These students, selected from participants in the Youth in Construction program, have shown drive and dedication to the craft and we believe this new internship program will help further prepare them for a rewarding career in construction.


    Skanska has been a proud participant in the ACE Mentor Program here in the Puget Sound region since its inception in Seattle in 2001. Since then, it has expanded to Bellevue in 2006 and Tacoma in 2016. ACE is a free after school program open to any high school student with the curiosity and drive to learn about the various career paths in the design and construction industry.

    The program runs November through May each year and typically pairs a group of 10 to 15 professionals with 20 to 25 students. Over the course of 15 two-hour meetings every other week, the students learn about the various disciplines and then they put that learning to the test by responding to a mock RFP. This is high-level, career-building work.

    ACE pairs architects, engineers and contractors with high school students, and introduces them to people in related fields — interior design, urban planning, marketing, law and more — to give the students real world experience prior to graduating high school and provide a head-start confirmation of their career path before entering college.

    Since its inception locally, more than 1,500 industry professionals have volunteered as mentors to nearly 3,500 students. The ACE Mentorship Program has awarded more than $1.1 million in scholarships to local students pursuing a college education in one of the ACE fields.


    People who don’t work in construction often get a certain mental picture when I mention that I work in construction, but as those of us in the industry know, this field encompasses a wide variety of career paths. At Skanska alone, we have three main divisions in the U.S. — Building, Civil and Commercial Development — all of which offer wonderful opportunities for people looking to get into this business.

    For example, careers in development are not limited to those who studied real estate but have an interest in the built environment. The team at Skanska USA Commercial Development have degrees that span across real estate, architecture, finance, urban planning and design. They welcome people energized by creative problem solving and working amongst diverse mindsets that will bring forward highly sustainable and resilient buildings.

    Roles on their team include development, leasing, sustainability, innovation/emerging technology, safety, finance, strategy, legal, asset management, communications, marketing, HR, diversity and inclusion, and office management. What’s more, they have two current employees who started in administrative roles and have since completed the USC Ross Minority Program for Real Estate, progressing to now become development associates.

    Another thing I love about this industry and our company is how many people have joined us from areas outside of construction. Case in point is Margot vanSwearingen, one of our senior project managers.

    Margot initially wanted to be an architect. She went to UW, majored in architecture and spent six years at an integrated design firm on their architecture staff working on K-12 design. She was really invested in designing for how kids learn and the best environments for teachers — the very things we value at Skanska, as well. Her interest in construction operations was piqued while performing construction administration on projects she worked on while at the firm and talking with a friend who worked for Skanska gave her the confidence that contracting would be a right fit, so she made the move.

    On Margot’s most recent project, she was senior project manager overseeing construction of the new Highline High School. She oversaw client contact, cost management, schedule management, mitigating risk, COVID mitigation, estimates, working with design team on preconstruction, course setting, owner communication, establishing processes and methods, labor negotiations and more.

    Another job people normally don’t associate with the construction industry is strategy. Addy Duffany certainly didn’t. While she is very passionate about our industry today, when she was studying urban planning at Arizona State University, she had given very little thought to working for a construction company … and no thought to working in strategy.

    But after joining Skanska and gaining experience in both preconstruction and in operations as a project engineer, she noticed that the company had a business need to plan our new business initiatives in the same way we plan our projects. So, Addy did what forward-thinking people do — she put together a business case for a role she called “Strategy Manager,” which needed someone well-versed in the industry and with the technical skills to relate to our project teams while thinking futuristically to do the job right. We agreed with her analysis and recommendations 100% and then moved her into the role because she was the perfect fit.

    At the end of the day, our industry is about building things. In construction, that can mean building strategies, building plans, building teams, building budgets, building consensus and more. Because without all of that, none of us would be building buildings or building our careers.

    Kevin McCain is executive vice president and general manager, Skanska USA Building.

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