Create a plan to earn PM credentials

IN THE OLDEN days, PME (plumbing/mechanical/electrical) engineers were scarcer than the proverbial general contractors holiday bonus to his workers. That was when an HVAC or plumbing contractor was expected to have enough knowledge to do the design/build for almost any sized commercial job up to the very largest projects. The whole point of most state masters license exams, similar to my first one

IN THE OLDEN days, PME (plumbing/mechanical/electrical) engineers were scarcer than the proverbial general contractor’s holiday bonus to his workers.

That was when an HVAC or plumbing contractor was expected to have enough knowledge to do the design/build for almost any sized commercial job up to the very largest projects. The whole point of most state master’s license exams, similar to my first one I took in 1977 (my original master plumber’s license), was to see if you had the equivalent knowledge of what today is an EIT — an engineer-in-training, a prerequisite period of “apprenticeship” that a graduate from an engineering college must undergo before being allowed to sit for his Professional Engineer’s exam.

For my original master plumber’s license exam in North Carolina and using only a red pencil, a blue pencil, a standard scaling rule and a 30-degree triangle, I had to draw the plumbing piping for the side-view for:

A three-story office building, which had a sewer ejector in the basement, an acid waste neutralization tank on the third floor (no, I’m not kidding!) and gang-baths on all floors;

A two-story house with a basement; and

A floor plan for a slab-on-grade 1,200-sq.-ft. house.

For all three I had to show all drains, wastes, vents and fittings, with red as vents, blue as drains and properly size everything.

I also had to do a complete estimate, not just a takeoff, for the slab-on-grade floor plan.

And that had to be finished within the four-hour time limit in the morning session. The afternoon session consisted of 500, yes 500, questions, including lots of engineering ones that had be done closed-book within four hours.

Back then you didn’t need a master plumber’s license to become a plumbing project manager. You don’t need a license now. Just like you don’t need PMP (Project Management Professional) certification from the Project Management Institute. You don’t need a mechanical-trades-related Professional Engineer’s license to become a project manager, either. But having any or all of the above can only help your career.

Yes, this is still a free country, freer than most in the world at least, and employers are still free to hire who they want as middle management, which is what a project manager is.

They can insist their project managers all have Harvard MBAs or engineering degrees from the Berlin Philharmonic (that’s a joke there, son), or they can hire only homeless drug addicts from a nearby shelter. No government agency or policy dictates formal qualifications for becoming a project manager.

In these times of aging baby boomers all competing for the same few middle-aged-spread-management jobs along with recently graduated engineers and MBA-ers from Generations “X” and “Y” respectively, the need to differentiate yourself from the pack becomes more and more difficult.

And more important.

So here are some humble bits of advice and perspective for those contemplating a career in mechanical contracting project management or project management in almost any other field.

First, if you’re younger than 30, get or finish a four-year degree. A master’s degree wouldn’t hurt and would probably be worth the extra costs of time and money, but a baccalaureate degree will be required for most employment tracks leading to full-blown project management.

Second, get field/real-world/real-work experience in the trade in which you wish to become a project manager, especially if actual field work and/or field supervision is required to be able to sit for a master’s license exam. You’ll need the field experience to be an effective PM later in your career, and being able to get any sort of government-sponsored occupational license will add to your credentials. North Carolina, for example, requires two years’ field experience per trade to be able to sit for any of its four mechanical-related master’s licenses.

Third, seek out self-chosen franchises and certifications, such as the PMP designation.

Fourth, do anything that’s not illegal, immoral or fattening to demonstrate your integrity, intelligence and management skill, such as getting involved with non-business groups and activities such as the Jaycees, the United Way, the Boy Scouts and civic groups.

Just be careful not to push too hard and try to do too much too fast. Prepare, work, risk and a little luck may fall in your lap as well. Then selectively accomplish and earn and let your career come to you.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He may be reached by phone at 919/851-3985, or via e-mail at: [email protected]