Gen Z and A+E: A Growing Demographic Makes its Mark on the AEC Industries
What impact will Gen Z have on the AEC industries?
The journey into construction varies dramatically. Some know they were meant to build from the get go—donning a hard hat at a young age. Others realize their true calling years later as they sit behind a computer monitor in grad school or after exploring a long list of careers that ultimately leaves them unfulfilled. Just as the journey differs in form, so does the path a person takes as they grow.
So far in this series, we’ve heard from four current or newly graduated apprentices who are just starting their construction careers. Now let’s hear from a few seasoned veterans. While apprenticeships or stints as laborers took them in a variety of directions, their stories have a common thread: they most likely wouldn’t be where they are today without building a foundation in the field, using their hands and learning about the building process from soup to nuts.
Steve Hoffmann met one of GLY’s founders, Frank Young, Jr., at the University of Washington in 1994. Little did Steve know, this chance encounter would have a lifelong impact on his career. Impressed with Steve’s energy and demeanor, Mr. Young offered him a summer job at GLY as a laborer. Focused on a completely different area of study [communications] and unsure of his career path out of college, this opportunity came at a prime time in Steve’s life.
In 1996, after two consecutive summers building for GLY, Steve knew where he wanted to go upon graduation. He then hired on in a regular position as a Project Engineer and continued to spend a significant amount of time in the field. The first few months, Steve worked with the survey and layout team on the Lake Union Adobe Corporate Campus. Over the next 23 years, he assumed roles of greater and greater responsibility, from Project Manager to a Principal of the firm. Today, as Executive VP Operations, he is overall in charge of directing GLY’s resources to achieve client and business goals.
While Steve didn’t formally participate in the apprenticeship program, he did take advantage of every learning opportunity he could in the field. This laid a solid foundation for his career in construction, regardless of whether he chose a Field Superintendent or Project Manager route.
Reflecting on the past, Steve said “working in the field was instrumental to my understanding of the construction industry. It also provided me a great appreciation for the hard working, stand-up folks that make this business possible. I’m fortunate to be able to work with them.”
Monty Kilcup was born into the industry but he didn’t necessarily know if he’d choose the same path as his brother or grandfather when the time came. Working on construction projects in his late teens was a given, a summer job to earn some extra cash. However, he found the work fulfilling and the pay unbeatable, so he continued working his way through college as a laborer.
Studying business and pre-law at WSU for four years gave Monty the chance to explore a different career path, but in the end, he couldn’t pull himself away from construction. Upon graduation, he joined GLY fulltime and spent the next several years adding to his skillset in the field. Over the course of eight years, Monty filled a variety of roles including laborer, truck driver, fork-lift operator, concrete lead laborer, laborer foreman, and carpenter’s helper.
Fortunate to shadow family members in the field as he was growing up, Monty opted out of an apprenticeship, but he knows its benefits well. Working in the field gave him a hands-on perspective that adds value to his projects to this day. He is able to identify issues that those without field experience might overlook. Having someone on the team who understands the brick and mortar process—similar to the perspective of an architect-turned-project engineer—is invaluable. After all, if the staff in the office do not provide proper information to the field, the craftspeople are less efficient and the job suffers as a whole.
Today, as a Principal of the firm and Senior Project Manager, Monty says he wouldn’t be where he is without those critical eight years working alongside talented carpenters and learning from some of the best in the craft. He credits former GLY Superintendent and mentor Merrell Maxwell with not only showing him the skill of building, but teaching him the proper balance of diplomacy.
Monty’s two cents: if you’re looking for a career with opportunities for advancement, consider an apprenticeship. If you’re willing to listen, learn and work hard, good things will happen.
Like many young adults that follow in their parents’ footsteps, Rick assumed at a young age that he would be a plumber—just like his father. In 1976, while he waited for his plumbing apprenticeship opportunity, he started framing houses to earn some cash. This short stint as a carpenter was enough to get him hooked. When his plumbing opportunity arrived, he kept framing instead.
Rick participated in the carpenter apprenticeship program for a short period before taking the journeyman test. Although he doesn’t have any regrets about that decision, he admits he missed out on first-hand experience in several areas such as commercial concrete and encourages anyone who chooses to do the program to stick it out to the end.
From Framer to Framer Lead, Journeyman to Foreman, and General Foreman to Superintendent by his mid-20s, Rick looks back on his career with a smile. Those first few years in the field opened the door to many opportunities accentuated by great benefits, wages, and life style.
Have doubts about applying for an apprenticeship? Rick will be the first to root for you.
“Along with daily problem-solving that keeps the mind sharp,” he says, “there’s satisfaction in seeing a building rise in front of you due to hard manual labor and successful planning. A career in construction can provide a comfortable, happy life for you and your family.”
Alan Kniffin’s ladder climbing success story began in his early 20s. After high school, he attended junior college for a short time, but his heart wasn’t in it. A job as a scuba diving instructor kept him busy for a few years after that but at 23, married and with a child on the way, he needed a job—and eventually a career—that could support his family. Although he saw carpentry as a way to feed his passion for working outside, Alan admits the pay attracted him most. In 1977, he traded in the wetsuit for a tool belt and began the carpenter apprentice program with a starting wage of $7.30/hour.
Alan journeyed out of the program in 1980 with little realization that he just built the foundation of a life-long career. Over the past 42 years, he has been a Foreman, General Foreman, Superintendent, Project Manager, Project Executive and today, is GLY’s Director of Field Operations. He is a cheerleader for apprentices and appreciates the hard work he sees each day as he visits the jobsites. Alan is living proof that there is no limit to your advancement as long as you put in the time.
What impact will Gen Z have on the AEC industries?