In business schools across America, managers are taught to use the “soft skills” that can’t be measured with a calculator. Hard skills include things like accounting, productivity, efficiency, and output. Soft skills are the harder to compile things like communication, empathy, teamwork, flexibility and problem solving. For a long time, construction management has historically glossed over these things, with a “get ‘er done” approach that assumes that production is the only thing that matters.
One professor of construction management, John Posillico, who worked for years as a construction management consultant, says that he learned quickly that these soft skills were essential to his work—and teaching these skills was sometimes hard to do. In Engineering News-Record, he wrote:
“A constant complaint I receive from industry professionals looking to hire graduates for entry-level construction positions is that the graduates have a difficult time with professional communications. ‘We can teach them the technical skills,’ I have been told, ‘but we don’t have the time to teach them the other stuff.’”
He posed a challenge for his students. He tasked them, in groups, with presenting a 16 week quantity take-off of a multi-million dollar office building. But part of the way through the course he threw a curve ball designed to mirror the differences in workplace conditions:
“One team member was only allowed to communicate face-to-face, representing a Baby Boomer, while another could communicate face-to-face and via a telephone, to represent Generation X. The final team member could only communicate via email or telephone, representing Generation Y. These constraints forced students to adjust their presentations.”
This was just one strategy used in one class, but it taught the students a valuable lesson in how they could interact with customers, owners, and fellow workers. The challenge presented to us is how to teach that to our teams in our own companies.