GroundBreak Carolinas is honored to spotlight John Hildreth, PhD, Kimmel Distinguished Professor at Western Carolina University (WCU), who is a member of the Class of 2023 GroundBreakers — an exclusive group of individuals who have gone above and beyond to make a difference for the construction community in the Carolinas.
Dr. Hildreth is known as an exceptional professor, mentor, and scholar in WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management, which offers one of the few construction management degrees within a College of Engineering. He is dedicated to making a lasting impact on construction management students and the construction industry.
His advocacy for his students can be shown through his commitment to the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) as Director of ASC Region 2 and cultivating meaningful partnerships with the top construction and design-build firms in the region. Dr. Hildreth has engaged in research valued at over $3.5 million and has mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate students entering the construction industry.
GroundBreak Carolinas caught up with Dr. Hildreth for a quick conversation.
Tell us what you are most passionate about when it comes to the AEC industry and/or your role within your organization?
My passion is for improving the AEC industry by delivering construction education founded in the fundamentals of engineering and developing partnerships between industry and educators. The engineering approach to planning and problem solving is an effective means to avoid and address the real challenges of construction. Strong partnerships bring realism and relevance to the education of the next construction professionals.
What do you see as the future trends of the construction industry over the next 5-10 years? Will technological advances dominate the industry changes of the future?
AI will completely transform the industry. Automation will augment productivity to help offset the labor shortages. Augmented and virtual reality will continue to help us communicate with those that do not speak our jargon. Technology will certainly impact how we do work going forward. However, interpersonal skills will continue to be necessary to develop and maintain the personal relationships that are a hallmark of the AEC industry.
What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment is not mine at all. It is the passion and success of the many students over the years that are enjoying the rewards of a career in construction. The accomplishments are theirs, but I do draw great satisfaction from the idea that I may have had some positive impact along their journey.
What do you think are the most important personal attributes one must possess to be successful in the construction industry of tomorrow?
I think in many ways the personal attributes leading to success in the future are the same as they have been in the past. In the AEC industry, people are hired for their technical skills, promoted for their managerial skills, and fired for their interpersonal skills. Technical ability is the price of admission. A willingness to take initiative and responsibility coupled with the character and ability to lead others will open the next set of doors. However, the ability to relate and communicate across a very broad range is the key to longevity and success at the highest levels.
Looking back over your construction career, is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance? Why?
There are many things I could have done better, but very few I would do differently. My mistakes have taught me a great deal. My chosen path has allowed me to collaborate with and develop longstanding friendships with some of the very best and brightest construction professionals from around the world.