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Construction manager builds a better future

When Michael J. Donovan looks at the Boston skyline and beyond, he sees his handiwork in many of the buildings that helped create the renaissance of the city: Rowes Wharf, State Street Financial Center, Battery Wharf, Gillette Stadium. As director of purchasing for Skanska, he had a part in laying the groundwork for all these landmarks, helping to hire subcontractors, search for materials, find suppliers, negotiate contracts, and more.

“It’s like putting together a sports team, finding the right talent and people to bring to the job site,” says Donovan, who walked through the doors of this Swedish developer as a young construction engineer, and is still there 35 years later.

The construction industry has been battered during the economic downturn, with ongoing job losses and an industry unemployment rate of about 27 percent. Credit is almost non-existent for builders, but Skanska has been hanging out its development shingle in the US, financing and building projects itself. “The commercial and industrial sector has slowed down – there’s not the need for office towers that some people want to build, and competition is keen because there are fewer projects,” says Donovan. “But construction is cyclical; we’re in another one of those down cycles.”

Despite the current grim construction picture, IHS Global Insight predicts that 685,000 construction workers will be added in the next four years. Construction associations say that workers are aging – 49 percent are baby boomers who will be retiring over the next 10 years – opening up construction jobs, which include architecture, engineering, design, as well as vocational positions, ranging from welding to painting.

Q: How many subcontractors do you work with at Skanska?
A: I work with about 300 to 400 subcontractors on a routine basis. These include electricians, plumbers, steel erectors, carpenters and others. All our subcontractors need to go through a standard qualification procedure that includes evaluating safety and the financial strength of the company.

Q: How did you get interested in construction?
A: I grew up in the age of Lincoln Logs, not computers and Sim City, so I’ve always been interested in how things go together. I spent three months traveling around Europe, going inside every castle and cathedral. Hopefully the things I help build will also be there for years to come.

Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in construction?
A: Decide whether you want to be out in the field or at a desk, managing and scheduling projects. We have foremen who spend most of the day on the site; graphic designers who do computer modeling; building development people who look for property. The beauty of building construction and project management is that there’s no limit to what doors can open for you.

Q: How do you look in a hard hat?
A: Well, I’m not a hat person, but hey, you have to wear them.

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