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Career spotlight: Project management

Career spotlight: Project management

What is project management? What kind of career can you expect with a qualification in project management? Project management is a skill set that can be applied to a number of different industries in various contexts. Best of all, it’s a lucrative occupation.

A career in project management is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a dynamic role that combines versatility and organisational skills in a high-pressure situation. Gone are the days when project management was simply a way of controlling the budget, schedule and quality of an output; it now involves a 360-degree view of an outcome, from risk and stakeholder management to communication, team leadership and benefits realisation.

Project management is traditionally associated with the construction and engineering sector but in the last few decades has be largely used in the IT industry. The skills are so widely applicable, however, that you’ll find project management in any business function, from research and development to human resources, across diverse industries such as health and education, manufacturing and finance.

Large organisations, such as government and corporations, commonly use projects to improve business performance in a cost effective manner and smaller businesses have started to do the same, leaving those with project management capabilities in the box seat when it come to career opportunities.

Project management education pathways
Many business qualifications such as business, business administration and management contain a module of project management. If you find you enjoy managing projects, why not try a Certificate IV in Project Management or Diploma of Project Management? Vocational training will give you the skills and knowledge to practise project management in a structured manner at industry standard. Higher education options include undergraduate and postgraduate study.

For those who are practising project managers, certification in a methodology such as PRINCE2, which has a Foundation and Practitioner level, will signal to potential clients and employers that you understand the principles of project management and can practise them. PRINCE2 is becoming a common pre-requisite for government and corporate projects.

Project management career opportunities
Entry level roles include project support functions where you can expect to see titles such as project officer, project coordinator, project team member and project administrator. Team members may specialise in areas such as scheduling, project communications or risk management.

After gaining some experience either at project team member level or managing small projects, you can progress to roles including project manager, project team leader or project director. These titles all indicate the highest level of responsibility within the project.

In large organisations, program managers, portfolio managers and project management office (PMO) positions all deal with situations where there is more than one project running. People bearing these titles look after resource management, project selection and benefits management outside individual projects. Other project-related roles include consultants and educators.

Project management salary expectations
According to the Federal Government’s Job Outlook resource, there will be a strong demand for project managers in the next five years across most industries, particularly in the contractor space.

At entry level, project officers earn around $55,000 per annum. Experienced project managers take home an average salary well above $100,000: in the construction and engineering sector the salary range is $110,000 to $130,000 while those in IT and mining, oil and gas can expect a bit more, from $125,000 to $155,000. At the top end, project professionals can earn more than $200,000 a year.

(Figures taken from the MyCareer Salary Centre, 30 July 2013)

Project management graduate: Ben Grace

Since the age of 18, Ben Grace has worked in a number of construction roles. Starting as a labourer, he quickly worked his way up to supervisor—“I got a job working as a construction supervisor for a huge telco. I was running a $3.2 million project at the age of 19”—and soon owned his own construction business. Apart from a certificate of works management he had never done any tertiary study.

Ben decided to do the Diploma of Project Management to formalise his knowledge. “The reason I did project management is to get some sort of qualification and try to really learn some stuff. I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he says.

The diploma enabled him to bridge some gaps, particularly in time management where he acquired a more systematic approach to scheduling. “I went and applied it to all my work and even during the tendering process: how I’m going to do the project, coordinate it better, organise it better and have a more structured system. That’s probably the thing that has helped me the most.”

He certainly took a liking to the course, finishing in three months as an online student with TAFE. In May 2013 the Taree TAFE Awards of Excellence announced that he had achieved first place for the diploma.

Those project management skills have also helped him manage a busy lifestyle. As a triathlete, Ben travels 3-4 months a year, juggling work and study. He also recently tackled a Double Diploma of Management and Business to enhance his business skills—“the course taught me the way I’m doing it is okay, but there’s a smarter way of doing it”—and he is considering ‘retiring’ from construction and taking either a Bachelor of Commerce or becoming a pilot.

“All I really wanted in life was a degree, I’d love to have one. But you can’t get a degree in aviation, it’s only a diploma,” says Ben. Then again, there’s something to be said of owning your own business and having multiple diplomas. “All my friends have degrees and they’re earning $70-100 grand and I’m thinking ‘I’m earning four times that amount!’”


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