When downsizing in 2016 due to the market crash of the oil and gas industry left Nathan Collins without a job, he did what he’s done since the start of his career in construction in 2001 — saw it as a new chapter. Collins, who lives in Andrews, Texas, began researching what schools would best fit the career path he wanted to pursue, and found SDSU’s online Construction Project Management program.
“I felt the certification would serve twofold,” said Collins. “First, the program would allow me to benchmark my skills while exposing me more to the commercial side of construction and, second, acquire a professional certificate from a recognized school. I went into the program open minded and earned the Construction Project Management Certificate.”
Collins felt the program’s biggest strength was the instructors. “The facilitators for each of the classes bring years of knowledge, experience, and applied education to the format,” he said. “All were currently working in the industry and abreast of current industry standards, regulations, and practices. Each was willing to share their knowledge and enhance the material of the course with applied experience. The facilitators also ensure that they’re available to each student through multiple sources outside the classroom.”
Collins’ cohorts — an average of about 20 per course — were from all over the world. “The diversity of demographics represented in each class brought value to each discussion by presenting multiple views to a topic,” he said.
For anyone seeking to enter or advance in the construction industry, Collins offered this advice: “The construction industry is on the front lines of delivering new technology and practices for the world. Roads, bridges, and buildings to house the next invention start with construction personnel, equipment, and knowledge. The technology used today on job sites is much different than two decades ago, and formal education along with on-the-job experience is needed to help deliver the final product to the customers. For those just starting in the industry, classes such as these offered at SDSU are perfect to help bring technical knowledge to the work you do on job sites every day. Doing this early in your career is the best choice, but it’s never too late to gain additional education to enhance your career growth.”
Collins answered some questions about his career and SDSU’s online Construction Project Management program.
Please give us a brief history of your education and career.
My career started out as an entry-level job working as an operator for a large regional civil contractor in 2001. During these years, formal training and certifications were unheard-of and not needed; promotions and raises came with on-the-job training. The majority of my work consisted of long days, and nights, supporting all facets of oil and gas operations for multiple exploration companies in remote locations and weather conditions. To break the monotony, we would take rotations doing the occasional small job for a farmer cleaning up pastures or demolition some old outbuildings.
I spent the next five years honing my skills as a heavy equipment operator on all types of equipment working in the five-state region of the Hi Plains — Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle, SW Kansas, SE Colorado, and NE New Mexico. Upon learning the technical skills of the trade, I took the role as a field supervisor in 2006 and handled assigned accounts for the company and oversaw day-to-day work of multiple work crews. In mid-2007, I took on the challenge of expanding operations into another sector of the U.S. and carried the role of operations manager, setting business operations and accounts.
Another door opened in 2009 and I stepped out of the contract side into a company role as a construction foreman. Hired for my skills of site stabilization and in-depth knowledge of drilling operations, I worked to bring standards for site construction up to par and worked side-by-side with state regulators to bridge the gap of perceived operations and actual. I began to acquire certifications during this time to help with wetland delineations, storm water compliance, and soils.
In 2012 I took a transfer to an acquired asset, the Permian Division, and worked my way up from a construction specialist to construction supervisor. My days consisted of planning, scheduling, bid packet reviews and awards, site inspections, and contractor management for all civil construction. 2015 brought on new challenges and reorgs within the company to help streamline business operations as the perceived bust of the industry was looming. I took over field supervisor operations for both civil and mechanical construction up until 2016 when the inevitable occurred of being laid off due to the market crash of the oil and gas industry.
How long did it take to complete SDSU’s program, and how many hours per week of your time?
I enrolled in the program in spring of 2016 for the summer session, taking four classes. I finalized the certificate in the fall of 2016 with the project management class for the certificate. Each class requires a different amount of time but overall averaged about 5–6 hours a week per class. Some weeks required a bit more time and some less.
How has the certificate or knowledge you gained helped in your career?
The up-to-date material allows the class to be in sync with current industry practices and standards. Doing a dive into contracts, legal, and scheduling allowed me to see things I had forgotten due to not being used regularly, while the books from each class are excellent reference tools to have as we advance in our careers. Every professional certificate is good on a résumé, as it shows the individual is continuing to learn. I have applied the certificate to my résumé as a consultant as I continue to pursue my degree to help support the skills needed to be a project manager. With having the hours required to test for the Project Management Professional Certificate through the Project Management Institute (PMI), I’m working on my Bachelor of Science in management with a concentration in project management. Upon completion of my BSM next year, I will pursue a Master of Engineering in construction engineering management.
Anything you’d like to add?
I cannot stress the importance of the benefits of leveraging professional certifications to enhance your career and guide you in your career growth.
SDSU’s College of Extended Studies offers five online Professional Certificate programs in Construction: Construction Supervision, Civil Sitework, Construction Estimating, Construction Practices, and Construction Project Management. For more information, please visit neverstoplearning.net/construction.