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South Florida business leaders in construction discuss industry jobs, comeback

South Florida business leaders in construction discuss industry jobs, comeback

Panel discussion offers tips to students, recent grads who are navigating job opportunities during COVID-19.

June 18, 2020 at 3:00pm

As organizations decipher plans for phased reopening, several of South Florida’s construction leaders offered their take on the industry, jobs and internships in a recent Zoom panel discussion organized by the Moss Department of Construction Management and FIU Online. They also offered practical advice to students and recent grads who want to secure positions with leading organizations in Florida.

Jose Faria, interim chair of the FIU Moss Department of Construction Management, moderated the panel, which included Vanessa Urquiaga, HR manager at Moss & Associates; Liz Slayton Swack, corporate recruiter at Robins & Morton; and Jose Cortes, vice president of business development for Skanska USA Building, Inc.

Adapting to a new normal

While panelists agreed that COVID-19 has changed construction and business practices in a big way, operations have been modified to adapt to new regulations and safety procedures.

“We are monitoring the situation, adapting to a new normal—at Moss, we’re still working remotely and staggering staff at job sites. We’re using temperature checks, all employees are wearing face masks and practicing strict social distance procedures. It’s important to stay fully functioning,” said Urquiaga and Cortes agreed.

“We are busy in our health care market since it is an essential part of the business, but we have seen construction projects put on hold or delayed due to the COVID-19 situation,” Cortes said. “Students must be versatile, flexible and find their differentiation and value they bring to the companies.” 

“Our health care projects have actually picked up speed and accelerated their schedules,” Swack explained.

Despite these new realities and the fact that internships have been affected, the panelists agreed that business will return soon and offered six ways recent construction management grads and those seeking employment can prepare for employment when positions become available. 

1. Seek leadership education

Businesses, now more than ever, need a new type of leader—those who can lead through any type of change and stay attuned to needs and concerns of their team, said Swack. Uncertain times require strong leadership that can help organizations chart a course to help businesses thrive. 

2. Learn something new

While hiring may be on hold for now, those seeking positions can take courses to improve their resumés with certifications or skills to make themselves more valuable, offered Cortes.

Now is a good time to consider advanced education with a master’s degree in construction management, offered Faria, who explained that the FIU master’s degree in construction management is fully online, there’s no GRE requirement, and can be completed in just one year. 

3. Network in the industry

Find people in the industry with whom to speak and network. While certain markets may not always be open—they are still active with communication. Reach out to companies, offer to meet with them and make connections. 

“The better you can position yourself, the better off you are,” Cortes said.

4. Obtain an internship

“Know what your passion is,” Urquiaga said. “Focus on that and try to secure an internship.”

An internship is a good way to learn a field through immersion. While internships are reduced and on hold for many industries, some positions are being offered remotely. If you can’t get an internship, do whatever you can to get as close to the industry as possible, offered Swack.

5. Embrace technology

Technology helps every industry become more profitable. All panelists agreed that recent grads and those seeking positions should spend time learning the programs used, seek certifications, and brush up on digital software for communication.

“If you don’t embrace technology, you won’t have the same opportunities,”Cortes declared.

6. Know the trends

More and more interviews are being conducted remotely with Zoom and Skype, but these opportunities should be treated as formally as regular interviews. Interviewees must do their research on the companies they are interviewing with. Know what’s happening in the industry and with competitors and what changes may be coming in response to safety and COVID-19. This will show you are well-informed, you bring value and you have ideas.

For those interested in the construction management industry, or the fully online master’s degree in construction management, the next FIU Online/Moss Department of Construction Management info session will take place on June 24 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Moss Department of Construction Management is within FIU's Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability