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Hill International, Inc. offers the best AEC industry talent to help our clients deliver the infrastructure of change. This requires that we build leaders for the long-term by identifying talented younger professionals to join our team, and then helping them to accelerate their careers. For Hill, this approach helps ensure our company always has the depth and breadth of skillsets our clients require to realize their projects successfully, while also developing the next generation of Hill leadership.
This dynamic was in full effect at ENR’s Top Young Professionals Conference in Tempe, AZ, this past February. Hill’s contingent in Tempe was specifically selected by their respective regional leaders for their accomplishments, their creativity, and their drive to improve themselves, Hill International, and the AEC industry at-large. Recognized with this selection were Construction Manager/Project Manager Dean Gable from Hill’s Spokane, WA, office; Project Manager Heather J. Oberst from Hill’s Houston office; Assistant Project Manager Kate Perlovskaya, PMP, from Hill’s Irvine, CA, office; Assistant Resident Engineer Mohammad Qoraan, LEED GA, from Hill’s San Jose office; and Dimitri Reid, Project Controls Director of Innovation and Technology based in Hill’s Phoenix, office. Dean, Heather, Kate, Mohammad, and Dimitri each shared their thoughts on the conference, their work at Hill and the opportunities available, and the state of the industry in general.
Lessons Learned and Best Practices for Rising Stars—and Established Leaders
According to ENR, the Top Young Professional’s conference seeks to “inspire early-stage construction professionals and provide workplace and career development strategies.” The conference featured keynote speeches, panel discussions, and small-group workshops, all with plentiful networking opportunities with peers, owners, and clients from across the industry.
Heather said the conference’s focus on younger AEC professionals was welcome. “I’ve been to other conferences but never one that was structured specifically to the younger generation,” she said. “I enjoyed getting to learn and interact with others who were in similar timeframes of their careers as myself. I also really enjoyed listening to the speakers and panelists pass along their advice for how we can best grow and develop our professions. Engineering News-Record did a great job at putting together a well-rounded agenda with talented and multifaceted speakers.”
Mohammad, who is currently working at the Port of Oakland and at San Francisco International Airport, agreed with Heather. “I liked the topics covered,” he explained. “The industry was well-represented, with attendees from the public and private sectors, contractors, consultants, engineers, and environmental and design firms.”
Dimitri concurred, saying: “There is real value in having an event for young AEC professionals. It was motivating to see individuals under 40 really moving the industry in the right direction. Having the platform to brainstorm, story share, and network with individuals of a similar age is important for professional growth.”
Kate and Dimitri both noted that the conference had benefits beyond networking and supporting young professionals. “I think any industry-specific conference that brings people together is beneficial,” said Kate. Specifically, she singled out a presentation on how to replicate high-performing teams as an example of how the conference will enhance her career for the long-term. “The presenters talked about the benefits and the process of how to create a powerful, high-performing project team, and how that approach can benefit everyone from project to project. How important it is to know the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates and utilize the expertise of the team members wisely. It’s crucial to avoid group-thinking and encourage differing opinions, but also to make decisions and move forward, working towards the common goal. The key takeaway was not to standardize the project team but to standardize the creation of the team. That’s something that will stick with me.”
Dimitri added that the conference also offered senior leaders a chance to help move the industry forward, as well as connect with new talent.
“There’s a benefit for senior level leaders to hear from young professionals at an event like this,” he says. “For example, it’s no secret the construction industry is lagging in the adoption of technology, and it is really the millennials leading the charge of embracing technology in project delivery. If AEC companies want to stay competitive, they will have to continue to evolve at a faster pace than we have seen. A conference like this connects new professionals with senior decision makers, so discussions on how data analytics and BIM tools and the benefits they bring can happen.”
Dean, who with nearly 20 decades of experience is not new to the industry but quickly rising through the leadership ranks at Hill, summed up the experience as, ““Fight for yourself, take chances, walk with intention, command authority, and create roles for yourself.” Which Dean and the Hill team are certainly doing.
Working at Hill: Aligning Project Success with Opportunities for Growth
“Over the next few years,” said Mohammad. “I want to explore and develop skills in project management. I want to have gained experience in leading projects for major clients, and I will be looking for opportunities to expand my responsibilities to make this happen,” he states. “Hill is giving me the opportunities to learn and grow, and Hill management supports and communicates with me to help me to achieve my goals and hears my voice. The chance to attending conference is one example of the opportunities Hill provides, as well as the learning and development options available.”
Dimitri agreed that sending the group to the conference was a good example of how Hill is willing to invest in their young professionals but hoped the company would consider formalizing a “groom and grow” approach to talent development.
AEC hiring statistics support Dimitri’s suggestion for the continued success of the company. The ongoing, and worsening, shortage of AEC talent is, in part, due to the continued emphasis on hiring established professionals across the industry rather than on developing new talent. “We need to invest in future leaders if Hill wants to continue to stay competitive,” Dimitri says.
Heather stressed the variety of her work with Hill in Texas keeps her interested in her work and likes the opportunity to learn. She explains, “I like how versatile my current position is. I get to work with many different people and a wide variety of clientele. I learn something new every day.” She adds that she’d like to grow with Hill, and that this growth also requires support and encouragement in her skills. She explains: “I would like to continue growing and challenging myself as an employee and project manager. I’d also like to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities as a project manager in the construction industry, which I think will come from experience but also from trusting and believing in myself.”
Dean added that the Hill group, with the support of senior regional leadership, are now working together to develop initiatives to help young PMs grow with the company. He cites steps such as standardized job titles/descriptions and roles and responsibilities as one area where Hill can define success for those new to the company. “This is important to retaining talent at Hill,” he says. “There are career opportunities at Hill, but we need to help our professionals identify those opportunities and make it clear how to reach them.”
The Future of the Industry: Embracing Technology to Meet Challenges
Kate reinforced Dimitri’s point on the importance of the AEC industry embracing technology. “There is a big technological gap that affects timely decision-making in many areas of the AEC industry,” she says.
Mohammad and Heather agreed that the future of the industry depends on how well and how quickly firms address the current supply chain issues and materials shortages, including using new technologies to help manage costs and reach project goals. Mohammad is optimistic, saying, “I am excited about the industry as I feel we are on a good pace in embracing technology in construction sector. Especially when using new construction technology trends in project delivery like drones, augmented reality, robotics, more prefabrication/modularization, cloud, and mobile technology.”
Heather agreed that technology can help the industry meet the challenges it faces today. She said, “Cost increases, supply chain issues, labor shortages, etc. are challenging many of the standard practices that have been used in the construction industry for so long. During the conference, panelists often spoke about how new practices and emerging technologies can help to mitigate these issues. For example, using PMIS and business data analytic tools to improve process efficiencies and BIM, digital twins, and drones can assist with team collaboration, worker safety, sustainability, and more.”
Heather also noted not every innovation at the conference involved adapting to technology. “There was a workshop aimed towards re-writing contracts to address and avoid cost escalation,” she notes. “We are also seeing greater use of alternate methods of contracting, such as design-build and CMR which aims to facilitate more collaboration between stakeholders. I think just being open to change will allow Hill to stay competitive regardless of what issues the industry is currently facing.”
Commitment from Leadership: Smoothing the Path to Success
For the future of Hill specifically, Senior Vice President, Western Region Manager Greg Heinz emphasized that the continued success of the company depends on finding a path forward for younger leaders such as Dean, Heather, Kate, Mohammad, and Dimitri. Greg sponsored the group’s attendance at the conference, but also stressed the need to do more for young talent.
“This is the place to grow. The opportunities to advance and grow with Hill are everywhere,” he says, citing such platforms as Hill University and a strong pipeline of new projects and programs across the Western Region. “The challenge for me now is continuing to identify our future leaders and making sure they have the support and encouragement to realize those opportunities.”
Heinz adds, “Attending the Young Professionals conference is a good start, but we can certainly do more. I’m looking forward to working with this group as well as other younger colleagues in the West to see what we can do to smooth and widen that path to success and advancement.”
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