Neil Lockhart – AmeriConstruct
In this tale of two cities, it may be the best of times and—though far from the worst—a very challenging time for the construction industry.
For reasons unique to San Francisco and Houston, the building business is indeed booming in and around these great cities, with cranes pointing skyward like index fingers signaling victory.
But having the qualified construction professionals in place to oversee these high-risk, high-reward projects, well that can be another matter for the companies involved.
The construction industry near full employment, companies are hard-pressed just to hire skilled labor. Even more so when it comes to finding the superintendents, project managers, estimators, schedulers, project engineers and safety managers to oversee the hard hats and bring a commercial, residential, institutional or mixed-use project to completion. Then there is also a need for accountants and business development representatives versed in the construction and real estate industries.
“It’s not an easy process, but we make it easier for our clients,” Neil Lockhart, CEO and owner of the commercial construction recruiting agency AmeriConstruct, tells Blueprint in June from his office in San Francisco. “There may be other recruiting firms, but we do it better because we understand what is happening in construction today.”
A couple of hot spots
And there is quite a need for construction project expertise in the Bay Area and Greater Houston, Lockhart explains, noting the complexities that make each of these metropolitan areas unique.
As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in April, San Francisco has become the world’s most expensive place to build, construction costs soaring 5 percent last year and making New York a bargain by comparison.
Rising steel prices attributed to U.S. and China tariffs and a shortage of blue-collar workers have meant a double whammy for developers on both sides of the Bay, and the local building codes are extra stringent, with earthquake precautions adding exponentially to costs.
Thus, the Bay Area is no place for on-the-job learning, Lockhart reminds. AmeriConstruct, with its national data base of 11,000-plus potential candidates fueled by such sources as LinkedIn, Instagram, referrals and relationships with other head-hunters, is well-positioned to find the right man or woman for the job.
Houston’s a much different building environment, Lockhart says, one where zoning codes are lax if existent at all.
“Buy land and you can build what you want—almost wherever you want,” is how Lockhart sums up the Houston mindset. “It’s a city that encourages building.”
Combine that pro-developer leaning with an overall healthy Houston economy, as well as the continuing need to rebuild after 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, and the 10-county area in South Texas ranks first in the nation for construction job growth. Houston is hiring skilled labor at a fast clip, but there’s also enough demand for AmeriConstruct to maintain a satellite there in addition to its San Francisco headquarters.
Companies be advised, however: Recruiting top people to manage extensive ground-ups or tenant improvements is no hasty process. Lockhart says that less than 10 percent of applicants are right for a particular role and no one’s going to be rushed to an interview.
“You must dive deep to uncover the gems,” he says.
Finding the right fit
Lockhart considers his duty to be more than just filling prominent positions at some of the nation’s construction industry heavyweights.
“Our clients are looking for a cultural, a career fit, so we want to know all they have to offer so we can best service them,” he says. “When we sell our services or a candidate to them, we don’t miss a thing. We cover all ground.”
And how satisfying it is to see that right fit at the helm, which Lockhart claims happens 90 percent of the time through his firm.
Less than two years since Lockhart founded AmeriConstruct, the company has partnered with major clients with tangible results. For example, a company noted for health care projects in the Bay Area has called upon the firm to staff its teams with a project manager, superintendent and project engineer for ground-up builds and upgrades.
One of the fastest growing real estate investment and development firms in the Bay Area found a superintendent through AmeriConstruct; work is progressing on schedule on its multifamily projects. AmeriConstruct has also been retained to find another superintendent and a project manager.
In Houston, AmeriConstruct is being engaged by, and connecting with, several construction companies utilizing or interested in its recruiting services.
“Our staff in Houston is currently sorting through a myriad of opportunities in Houston. There is so much going on!” Lockhart recites excitedly.
AmeriConstruct is also hiring business development reps in Houston to manage its new accounts and prospect for new ones. “It can be a gold mine for anyone working for AmeriConstruct in Houston,” says Lockhart.
With calls coming in from the two construction hot spots, Lockhart will likely keep concentrating on San Francisco and Houston before giving thought to branching out. His is a lean staff of around a dozen with decades of industry experience as well as the people skills that Lockhart seems to give equal priority.
Indeed he’s been some kind of a recruiter much of his professional life, having fulfilled the role for entities as diverse as StubHub, the Federal Reserve Bank and the San Francisco Chronicle, and having garnered construction savvy from recruiting assignments with a custom-home builder, tenant improvement company and high-rise builder. There have also been stretches for a couple of sports agencies, where Lockhart has recruited and represented basketball players for opportunities and been involved in contract negotiations and endorsements.
“Finally, I had enough of sports agency work,” says Lockhart, though he notes the similarities to the recruiting world and he remains a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors. “I reached the point where I wanted to start my own business. I looked at where my experiences could support me, and I knew recruitment and I knew construction. It was an easy decision to start AmeriConstruct.”
Given the growing need to recruit construction industry professionals, it seems to have been a prudent career shift.
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