Explore a Career in Construction

Enjoy the act of creation? You might consider a career in construction, creating the highways, houses, hospitals and other infrastructure that make life possible as we know it. You can get a quick start, earn a good income and work your way up in this vital, high-demand field.

Oklahoma Needs You

More than 70,000 people work in Oklahoma's construction industry, and Oklahoma employers will hire thousands of carpenters, electricians, general construction workers, line installers and repairers, plumbers and pipefitters, and other construction workers between now and 2014. The industry needs new workers to serve an expanding economy and take over for aging baby boomers.

The average construction worker in Oklahoma earns $34,594, 1 percent more than the average for private-sector jobs.

OccupationProjected Annual Oklahoma New & Replacement
Hires through 2014
2006 Median Annual Wages (Oklahoma)*2006 Median Annual Wages (national)
Carpenters270$28,600$36,550
Construction Managers120$55,500$73,700
Cost Estimators60$48,630$52,940
Electricians220$39,880$43,610
General Construction Workers280$22,240$26,320
Landscapers & Groundskeepers410$18,680$21,260
Line Installers & Repairers180$38,150-40,640$46,280-50,780
Plumbers & Pipefitters260$34,620$42,770
Structural Metal Workers80$29,050-39,460$30,290-40,480

* Note when comparing wages that the cost of living in Oklahoma communities is 7-15 percent less than the national average.

Major Oklahoma Construction Employers

Most construction employers are small. Oklahoma has 32,000 construction firms with no employees other than the owner. Another 7,500 firms hire one to 20 people, and 700 firms are larger. Construction workers also perform ongoing maintenance and other work for building owners, industrial plants, highway departments and other employers.

The industry is made up of four distinct segments:

  • Residential - Houses.
  • Municipal utility - Water, wastewater and other municipal utility facilities.
  • Highway - Highways, streets and bridges.
  • Commercial - Offices, shopping centers, factories, warehouses, hospitals, churches, schools and colleges, municipal arenas and other buildings.

Career Pathways in Construction

Construction careers generally begin with some type of craft or technology training, often on the job, but may take varying directions from there. A worker might move through an apprenticeship to journeyperson and master craftsman status and could go on to become an independent contractor. Another worker might continue into a two- or four-year college course, heading for a career in construction management.

Construction Careers Offer Myriad Benefits

  • Workers who know a trade are always in demand.
  • Trade craftsmen earn good incomes.
  • Apprenticeships let workers earn an income now while still learning their trade.
  • Construction offers opportunities to work outdoors.
  • The work is constantly changing.
  • Being part of creating something new is satisfying.
  • Workers can advance to supervisory and management positions or own and grow their own businesses.
  • Career trade workers with union benefits can often retire as millionaires.

Training for a Construction Career

Training and Skills Needed for Construction Occupations

  • Math: Measuring, calculating areas and volumes, and using formulas.
  • Communication: Understanding construction terms, reading blueprints, following instructions, interacting with others, and writing reports and documents.
  • Problem Solving: Evaluating resources needed and avoiding and adjusting to disruptions.
  • Information Technology: Managing everyday notes and memos, using computer aided design, preparing documents and spreadsheets, and using computer-driven equipment.
  • Safety, Health and the Workplace Environment: Meeting safety and health standards, coordinating work among various trades, and using quality standards. 
  • Technical Skills: Conceptualizing three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional drawings and using tools and equipment.
  • Leadership and Teamwork: Establishing goals, organizing work teams, matching team members to appropriate activities, and motivating others.
  • Ethics and Legal Responsibilities: Maintaining ethical standards, fulfilling contractual and legal responsibilities, resolving conflicts of interest, and understanding rights and responsibilities of various parties.
  • Employability and Career Development: Identifying advancement opportunities, maintaining relationships, keeping skills and industry knowledge current, creating a positive resume, and building a portfolio.

Training and Education Opportunities

Training programs and apprenticeships are commonly available in electrical, mechanical (heating and air conditioning) and plumbing, where licensing is required. Other fields may be limited to on-the-job training. High school or GED credentials are generally required, but four-year degrees are not, except for certain higher-level positions.

Programs in construction engineering, technology, and management are offered at some Oklahoma colleges.

Schools

State supported schools offering construction programs include:

Private and nearby-state schools offering construction programs include:

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are offered by trade unions and some trade associations. Not just casual on-the-job training, apprenticeships are rigorous, federally regulated programs that combine on-the-job learning with additional technical instruction. Learn more at the U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Website.

Oklahoma State Building and Construction Trades Council - tracks more than 20 apprenticeship programs sponsored by local unions across the state for trades including:

  • Boilermakers
  • Bricklayers
  • Electricians
  • Elevator constructors
  • Insulators
  • Ironworkers
  • Operating engineers
  • Painters
  • Plumbers and pipe fitters
  • Roofers
  • Sheet metal workers

Electrical apprenticeships are also offered by participating contractors through the
Associated Builders and Contractors of Oklahoma and by the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oklahoma City, which has a program that counts toward an associate degree in applied science.

Plumbing apprenticeships are a new program also offered by participating contractors through the
Associated Builders and Contractors. That program started at the end of 2008.

The U.S. Department of Labor Program Sponsors Database has a state-by-state, county-by-county list of registered apprenticeship programs. Besides construction apprenticeships open to new workers, the list includes other industries and programs open only to employees of the sponsoring company.

In addition, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has links to a few apprenticeship programs. OESC also catalogs training opportunities, including dozens of welding programs, at Oklahoma Job Link. Click on Training Providers in the left navigation column and select from more than 500 specialties.

Insiders

Hear from those who are glad they chose a career in construction.

Mid-Career: Michelle Bergwall, Director
Michelle Bergwall

Michelle Bergwall

Director of Construction
Union Public Schools
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Construction Director Thrives on Meeting Needs

Michelle Bergwall has a childhood picture of herself and her sister standing in a bucket truck suspended above the refinery their father ran in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The industrial backdrop helped lead her into the civil engineering program at the University of Wyoming, but she decided the field would be too deskbound for her.

When the family moved to Ponca City, Michelle transferred to Oklahoma State University's construction management program, looking for the variety and site work of a career in general contracting. After graduation she became an estimator and then a project manager for Oakridge Builders, later moving to sister company Flintco, Inc., where one of her projects was the Union Multipurpose Activity Center (UMAC) at Union Public Schools in Tulsa.

Over the years, Michelle noticed that clients often lacked the knowledge base to make good decisions about their projects. "I thought it would be fun to be on the other side of the table and build the buildings the way they should be built to really meet their needs," she says. When Union decided to hire a director of construction, Michelle made the move. At Union, she typically has about three major projects under way along with various maintenance initiatives. She's involved with everything from deciding what needs to be built and finding a site to working with teachers and principals on how to furnish classrooms.

Career Changer: David Hames, Contractor
David Hames

David Hames

Vice President
Quality Plumbing & Heating of Norman
Norman, Oklahoma

Wandering Son Finally Warms to Plumbing and Heating Business

The last thing David Hames ever wanted to do was work in Dad's plumbing and heating company in Norman. He left East Central University in Ada with a business and finance degree and went off to work as a golf pro in California and later as an auditor at Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters.

Eventually, Norman drew him back, and he began taking University of Oklahoma construction management classes at night with an eye toward the family business. He enjoyed the classes. But there would be no easy mainline to management. Dad wanted him to know the business from the ground up, so David served the standard plumbers and pipefitters apprenticeship before moving into the business office.

"It's been a great deal ever since," David says. He's his own boss, bidding and managing projects for new buildings at the University of Oklahoma, Norman Regional Hospital and other sites within about 60 miles of the Quality Plumbing & Heating of Norman home office. He also puts his finance education to work, handling billing, payroll and other financial matters, an area, he notes, that is often the downfall of contractors who are otherwise skilled at their crafts.

Veteran: Terry Hixon, Executive
Michelle Bergwall

Terry Hixon

Executive Vice President
W.S. Bowlware Construction, Inc.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dirty Work Pays off for Construction Exec

Terry Hixon thought he was finished with school after Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City. A week later, he was digging ditches and doing other dirty work as a general construction laborer. But Terry had drive. He found his way into a carpentry apprentice program, and it was back to school at night while working 40-hour weeks during the day. Once he made journeyman, he set his sights on the foreman's job. Then it was assistant superintendent, then superintendent as he kept looking for ways to move up.

"I was hungry," Terry explains. "I saw that the more responsible jobs came with bigger paychecks, so I'd say, 'Give me the responsibility.'"

Through self-study, he developed skills to move into management. He spent years on the road, managing construction projects around the country. He also became active in the Associated General Contractors of Oklahoma and served as its president in 2000. Now as executive vice president of W.S. Bowlware Construction, Inc., in Oklahoma City, he estimates and negotiates jobs and manages budgets and schedules for churches, shopping centers, offices and other commercial buildings from coast to coast.