I recently had the opportunity to speak at the 2023 MEP Innovation Conference in Austin on a panel discussing what newcomers to mechanical contracting should expect. In our presentation, “Cap, Gown, and Tech Ready: Prepping for the First Five Years as a New Hire,” Jack Stefanek (Project Manager/Estimator at Shambaugh & Son) and I answered questions from moderator Michele Hoffman (Director of Career Development at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America) and the audience.
Our session shared strategies for onboarding as well as our personal experiences. I talked about the state of the industry and the value of internship programs as a recruitment tool, and I offered some advice for recent grads and others entering the AEC field.
This article identifies the biggest takeaways from the hour-long session. Below is a short list highlighting five things everyone interested in a career in mechanical construction should consider.
Many people entering the mechanical construction field come from a general mechanical background. At U.S. Engineering, one of the first things we require for new hires—in addition to typical onboarding courses that convey general company information, safety and IT setup—is a short class on building mechanical systems. Mechanical Systems 101 teaches our new hires vocabulary and technical terms unique to our industry. This knowledge helps them gain a better understanding of the work we do and provides them with the language needed to ask the right questions.
This is just one of the many ways we support our team members’ success. If your company doesn’t offer this kind of class, I recommend that you do your homework. Research what you can, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. In this highly technical field, knowledge is closely connected to professional growth.
Technological change is happening rapidly in mechanical construction, and some companies are slow to get on board. Use your experience and knowledge of technology and new software to help drive progress. Advocate for research and small-group development.
I recommend starting with a case study. This approach allows you to test whether something will work without investing the time and resources required for a larger roll-out. In addition to gaining built-in advocates, most importantly, you’ll have quantitative proof of successes and failures to best inform the larger team. Use this data to refine the idea and develop a tested implementation plan, if successful.
As the processes in the industry become increasingly more data-driven, having even a basic understanding of programming is incredibly beneficial. It helps you communicate with software developers about what your team needs and allows you to develop effective solutions to your data needs collaboratively. With increased automation, this skill will be critical in tackling challenges over the course of your career.
Networking is critical to personal and professional growth. While the people in your company and industry will become valuable resources, you don’t need to wait until you’ve joined the workforce to begin building your network. Start now! Take the time to form relationships with professors, peers, and professionals. These connections will help you solve problems, meet new people and expose you to industry trends and emerging innovations.
Although networking is a key ingredient to long-term success, it is not a skill that many develop or practice. Attend industry events, schedule meet-ups with peers and seek out mentors now.
Benefits packages and salaries shouldn’t be overlooked. But it’s important to consider the work environment as whole. Think outside the job description. Look for growth opportunities, such as continuing education classes, mentorship programs and support of professional organization involvement. These opportunities demonstrate a company’s commitment to team member growth. In addition, consider the company’s culture, philanthropic activity, office setup and demographics.
You will spend most of your week at work. Make sure it’s a place where you are valued and that you truly want to be.
Whether it’s beginning to build your network or taking programming classes, implementing any one of these five strategies will help prepare you for a career in mechanical construction.
Sarabeth Gandara is a Preconstruction Manager at U.S. Engineering Construction. Based in Westminster, Colorado, she works with the greater Project Development team to procure work, assist in design-build and design-assist projects and connect with clients and vendors to ensure continuing project success. She also helps recruit for and plan the summer internship program. She volunteers on the MCAA Career Development Committee, where she helps educate students about the mechanical contracting industry.