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Beyond the Technical: The Soft Skills Needed to Succeed in Construction


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Successful construction careers not only depend on solid technical knowledge and skills but on so much more. Having an array of soft skills enhances productivity and safety on the jobsite which can lead to a long-term career in the industry.

Also referred to as employability skills, soft skills are personal characteristics that enable individuals to interact well with others and perform their jobs well. In construction, some of the most important soft skills include communication, leadership, and teamwork.

Soft skills have always been essential in the construction industry, because they are directly tied to safety and efficiency. Construction sites where there is little or no communication, no teamwork, and a lack of leadership are literally and figuratively disastrous.

The need for soft skills is becoming increasingly important as educators and hiring managers realize the importance of tangible, real-world skills in any workplace. Employability and communication skills have long been a part of the National Center for Construction Education and Research’s Core Curriculum, and the organization recently produced a series of blog posts about the need for soft skills in the industry.

Updating Construction’s Image

Part of NCCER’s mission is to provide education and resources to build a productive and successful construction workforce. Part of this initiative includes soft skills. By focusing on the existence and continued need for soft skills in the construction industry, NCCER is hoping to shift society’s perception of the industry as strictly blue collar and full of dirty and dangerous work to one that is innovative, technologically advanced, and collaborative, an organization spokesperson said.

The construction workforce’s possession of soft skills is what produces remarkable builds. The highly skilled and trained individuals in the construction industry are not only responsible for a build itself but also for maintaining a build environment that is safe and efficient. This is where soft skills come in.

As projects continue to grow in scope and size—often with shrinking timelines—the skilled professionals who are building them must have solid communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills to complete projects on time, on budget, and without any injuries or other safety issues.

Millennials often embody many of the soft skills required in the construction industry, including teamwork, a desire to continue to grow their skillsets, and a wish to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

Millennials often embody many of the soft skills required in the construction industry, including teamwork, a desire to continue to grow their skillsets, and a wish to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Organizations, like NCCER, are working to educate this generation about the true nature of the industry—as one that has always needed these skills.

While millennials have tended to overlook construction as a career path, industry leaders are hoping with the rise in student debt that they will take another look at the opportunities construction can provide them. And, the construction industry needs millennials.

The Skills We Need

Communication is an essential skill for just about any job, but it’s particularly important in construction because of the intricate nature of building projects. While verbal communication is vital, nonverbal communication is also very important.

In some construction roles, nonverbal communication can make the difference between a successful crane lift and a serious accident. Individuals in these positions have to make sure their decisions and methods of communication keep everyone safe. Being observant, working as a team, and following directions are also essential.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are also incredibly important in the construction industry. With the number of subcontractors and craft professionals involved in a single project, the ability for individuals to envision the project as a whole and make adjustments to their work as needed is critical to the overall schedule and budget.

Conflict management or the ability to react to and find quick solutions for problems and issues is another key soft skill. Projects will not always run smoothly and knowing how to innovate and make the right decision can mean the difference between an unsafe and safe work environment.

Other soft skills that are highly desirable in construction jobs and, depending on the specific job, essential to success include:

  • Willingness to continuously learn
  • Decision-making
  • Planning and organization
  • A strong memory
  • Working with others
  • Active listening
  • Persistence
  • Negotiation and diplomacy

All soft skills are important in every construction position. Along with soft skills and the technical knowledge needed to perform certain job functions, the construction workforce today also needs strong technological skills or the ability and willingness to learn and embrace new technology.

All individuals should strive to be leaders, team players, and hard workers. However, job titles often lead to an assumption of skills, or those that are expected because of a position. For example, a firm owner or superintendent may be expected to exhibit stronger leadership skills than a laborer. But in reality, the workforce thrives best when everyone is leading, communicating, and striving to do their best.

A combination of soft skills and technical knowledge contribute to a well-rounded and successful workforce. Learning and enhancing soft skills will ensure a lengthy construction career and can help individuals climb through the ranks of the industry. 

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