The following is an excerpt from a presentation delivered to the Northeast Metro District 916 (NEM 916) Advisory group in October 2014 by Chris Knutson, assistant project manager with Kraus-Anderson and an alumnus of NEM District 916 Career & Technical Center.
My name is Chris Knutson. I am 24 years old. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Wisconsin-Stout in Construction Management in December 2013.
A few days following my college graduation, I became a full time employee of Kraus-Anderson Construction Company as an assistant project manager headquartered in Minneapolis. Kraus-Anderson is a well known, reputable Construction Manager & General Contractor built on a commitment to its community and employees.
I am thrilled to be employed working in my educational field and gaining knowledge of the industry.
I am honored to work side by side with some of the most seasoned and successful project managers in the industry.
I am excited to be challenged every day… to be accountable and assigned to multi-million dollar projects.
I am confident that I am positioned for advancement in a lasting career with Kraus-Anderson.
Considering the sluggish economy and competitive job market, how did a fresh college graduate land an awesome career right out of the gate?
It’s sad to say there’s a whole bunch of bright, intelligent college grads out there, right now –fighting for career jobs. So How did I get here?
I attribute my success to the stepping stones I’ve crossed in my life… positive influences from instructors, teachers, family members, work and educational experiences, industry mentors and sponsors. It’s about RELATIONSHIPS, PARTNERSHIPS, and CONNECTIONS.
At the beginning of MY path, was the Construction Occupations course at NEM 916.
But to back up a bit, I grew up in Cottage Grove, with two parents, a dog and one older, know-it-all sister. In high school, I played football, completed my school work – held average to above average grades, hung out with friends, and went hunting and fishing with my dad. I always held a job through high school and was often times recruited by friends of my parents in the building trades to assist with special projects.
In my junior year at Park High, there was a buzz in the air and a pressure to start thinking about life after high school. My counselor and I talked at length about career and educational goals, programs, and colleges matching my skills and interests. It was overwhelming and seemed too big of a commitment, not knowing what I really wanted to do.
My counselor suggested I “test the water” before declaring a major in a four-year undergraduate program. He informed me of a partnership between Park High School and NEM 916 in which a high school student could attend a course at a technical college in order to gain experience and exposure to skilled trades. This seemed like a great option, and I immediately enrolled in the Construction Occupations course.
Upon arrival to my first class, I met instructor Tom Spehn. He outlined the agenda for the course– we would combine practical and necessary classroom studies with a hands-on, real project. We were planning to build a house! Our classroom learning included basics of simple math and reading rulers to more advanced analyses of design and dimensioning such as wall layouts, window and door framing and reading construction drawings.
Mr. Spehn was an excellent instructor—interesting, knowledgeable, encouraging and engaging. I quickly became hooked on the subject matter and excited to be a part of the house building project.
I felt like a giant sponge, soaking up all the information I could get from my instructor and the various contractors working beside the students. This experience helped me realize I had a passion for building, creating, and designing structures.
In the last few weeks of the course and the house near complete, Mr. Spehn informed the class of a scholarship opportunity available to any student wishing to pursue a degree in a construction-related field. Mr. Spehn pulled me aside privately and strongly encouraged me to apply for the Kraus-Anderson Scholarship.
I applied, and weeks later, I was proud to receive an Outstanding Student Achievement award and KA’s Future Builder’s Scholarship at NEM’s 916 course completion ceremony.
I had stepping stones directing my path. I confidently declared my concentration in a construction-related field, applied and was accepted to UW Stout’s Construction Management program to begin Fall of 2009.
The program at UW-Stout was intense. In addition to traditional class credits, the program required a pre-approved, industry-related internship to satisfy my degree requirements.
Toward the end of my sophomore year, I was actively seeking internship positions. With a struggling economy and weakened job market, it was proving quite the challenge…I feared I would not be able to land an internship.
Then I recalled the relationships of those who helped lay those initial stepping stones. I reached out to Tom Spehn from 916 as well as Mike Smoczyk of Kraus-Anderson who awarded me the Future Builders Scholarship. They took the time to listen, offer advice, guide me, and called my attention to other scholarship opportunities (which I pursued, receiving several), helping to alleviate financial obligations toward my student loans.
By summer of my junior year, I had successfully secured a project manager Internship with Kraus-Anderson. I worked hard and was committed to doing an excellent job. I went above and beyond; built relationships with staff and management at KA and stayed in contact with those connections. It paid off. I was asked to return as a part-time employee during winter and summer breaks from school.
Prior to my final semester at college, I initiated negotiations with KA for future employment. I returned to UW-Stout for my final semester of college with an offer and acceptance letter in hand from Kraus-Anderson. I became a full-time assistant project manager immediately following graduation.
Northeast Metro’s 916 Construction course was truly a stepping stone for me. I learned valuable trade skills, made social connections and confirmed my passion for the construction industry. This experience not only benefited me in my college coursework but helped accelerate the learning curve in my present job.
Currently, I am a member of UW-Stout’s Industry Advisory Board. I’ve recently been elected to review scholarship applications and am truly honored to participate in this process. I want to give back; I want to be a teacher, a mentor, a sponsor to other Chris Knutsons out there… just needing a little guidance, support, and financial assistance.
Whether you are a professional in the construction industry, faculty educational institutions, industry leaders who are involved in awarding scholarships or coordinating internship positions – we need to be innovative to develop ways to strengthen our relationships, partnerships and connections.
We need to be generous with our time and efforts. We need to be mentors and leaders. We need to keep the 916 Construction Occupation and other trade courses available to high school students…we need to lay stepping stones to provide a better pathway for our youth.
My name is Chris Knutson, I am 24 years…and, I am very grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the Construction Occupations course at Northeast Metro 916. Thank you.