Careers in Construction
The construction industry conjures up images of dusty building sites, loft conversions and extensions—and, indeed, it has its fair share of sole traders and small jobs. However, the industry as a whole is a multi-million pound sector with global opportunities across a wide range of jobs and careers. Construction sites range from single houses right through to massive developments.
There are jobs for graduates from architects through to engineers and surveyors. The sector also includes so-called ‘trade’ jobs such as plumbing, carpentry, joinery and building, all of which need training and often certification. This page explains the jobs and careers that are available, and the types of skills needed in this sector.
The Construction Sector
What do we mean by the construction sector?
The construction market is often divided into five main parts: residential construction, energy and utilities construction, commercial construction, industrial construction and other. Construction workers and companies often specialise in one particular part, or even in particular types of jobs in one part.
The construction sector in numbers
The construction sector overall in the UK is worth some £350 billion per year, and is currently growing. The UK Office for National Statistics reported that the value of new work rose by £15,380 million between 2021 and 2022, to a total of £115, 579 million.
In the US, the construction sector had a market value of an eye-watering $1.6 trillion in 2021, and it is also growing.
Companies in the construction sector in the UK employ around 1.4 million people, and there are also around 700,000 self-employed people working in the construction industry. Around a third of those working in the sector are therefore self-employed.
In the US, the sector currently employs over 9 million people, with each business employing an average of 2.6 people.
This suggests that the construction sector on both sides of the Atlantic contains both small and large firms, with many more small firms. There are a few very large contractors, including companies like Balfour Beatty and Vinci. Interestingly, the five largest building contractors in the world are all from China.
The sector also contains consulting firms, such as Arup Group and Mott MacDonald. These companies provide engineering and construction consultancy services to building firms and others.
Jobs in the Construction Sector
There is a wide range of jobs in the construction sector, far beyond the ‘builders, plumbers and carpenters’ that are most people’s impression. There are jobs for graduates, and also for school leavers. The main qualification in the sector is a practical approach to building, and a willingness to get hands-on, often in the field.
The careers and jobs in the sector include:
Architects and architectural technologists. Architects design the structure of buildings, and architectural technologists design the technical aspects. The key skills needed by both types of professionals include a good eye for design, problem solving skills, and excellent communication skills to enable them to negotiate and mediate between clients and builders. Architects also often act as project managers for building projects, so they tend to have very good project management skills. Architects are almost invariably graduates with professional licencing and qualifications.
Our guest post on the key skills needed by architects may be a helpful starting point for thinking about a career in this field. You may also be interested in our guest post on becoming an architectural draughtsperson.
Building surveyors assess and report on the condition of a building (for example, whether it is structurally sound, or what might need repairing). You might get a surveyor’s report if you are buying a property, to see if any work will be necessary, and if the price is reasonable. They are qualified professionals, and usually have a degree as well as professional qualifications. Alongside professional qualifications, building surveyors have a good understanding of practical building requirements, good written communication skills to enable them to write reports for clients, and good time management skills to enable them to manage multiple tasks.
Quantity surveyors work out how much of any material will be needed for a building. They are therefore key to making a profit on a building project. Quantity surveyors are usually graduates, and also have professional qualifications. They need good numeracy and analytical skills, and also tend to be good problem-solvers.
You can find out more about the skills required in quantity surveying from our guest post on the skills you need to be a quantity surveyor.
Estate agents (or real estate agents or realtors) sell and let property. They may also provide management services for rented properties. Estate agents may enter the profession from another career, such as sales, or from the surveying side, especially in commercial property. They tend to have very good communication and customer service skills, coupled with excellent negotiation skills and good sales ability. They also tend to be good at organisational skills, as they are often juggling several projects and negotiations at once.
You can find out more about estate agency from our guest posts on the skills you need to become a successful estate agent, and skills needed to work in commercial real estate.
Various types of engineers are also involved in the construction industry, including civil engineers, structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, and mechanical and electrical engineers. They are responsible for making sure that buildings and all the services installed in them work in practice.
You can find out more about this from our page on careers in engineering.
Construction managers are effectively the project managers on any building site. They plan and schedule work, supervise workers and check on progress. They therefore tend to have very good project management skills, coupled with good organisational skills and time management skills. They may also need traditional management skills such as recruitment and giving feedback.
You may be interested to read our guest posts on tips for starting a career in construction management, and skills needed to become a construction manager.
Landscape designers and landscape architects design and manage open spaces, especially in cities.
You can find out more about these careers in our page on Careers involving Animals, Farming and the Natural World.
People in construction trades are responsible for most of the hands-on work in construction. They include builders, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, stonemasons and painters and decorators. Most of these jobs do not require specialist qualifications, although they may require a period of on-the-job training. Many of these ‘trades’ can be entered via apprenticeships. Perhaps the most important attributes or skills are a practical approach and a willingness to learn.
You may be interested to read our guest posts on the skills needed in various construction trades, including two posts on the skills needed by electricians and the skills needed by successful electricians.
We also have guest posts on soft skills needed to work in the construction industry, the difference between soft and technical skills, and the skills needed to work as a general contractor in this industry.
Administrators and Managers are Also Needed in Construction!
Like most other industries, the construction sector also employs administrators and managers. If your skills lie in organisation rather than practical matters, but you understand and are interested in the building sector, this might be a good route for you.
You can find out more about these careers in our page on Careers in Administration and Management.
Similarly, many of the roles that are standard in ‘business’ are required in construction, including marketing, human resources and sales.
You can find out more about these careers in our page on Careers in Business.
A Field for Practical People
Like engineering, the construction industry is a field for practical people.
If you are interested in getting your hands dirty, and seeing an obvious outcome from your work, then it could be the right place for you. The range of careers means that you will almost certainly be able to find something that suits both your desired level of education and your interests.