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Five Routes into a Project Management Career

Do you want to get into project management? If so, you’re not the only one. Project management, over the last decade, has become increasingly popular with people from across a wide range of industries.

Perhaps it’s because project-based working has become increasingly in organisations so more and more operational roles come into contact with projects in their business. Maybe it’s because project management gets mentioned more in the mainstream – things like The Apprentice TV series, or talk about major projects that affect the public in some way – the Olympics, Crossrail, HS2 and so on. It might be because project management roles are consistently salaried well – and project management always seems to top the list of current skills shortages whenever there is a talent management report released.

Whatever the reason, project management as a career has gained great popularity and lots of people are trying to understand how they can open the door to a new career.

In this article, I share five different routes for you to consider – and some of the pros and cons of each.

1. Be Degree Educated

This is something that has changed dramatically over the last decade – the increase in the number of project management degrees available – both Bachelors and Masters levels. Nothing shows more commitment to a profession than obtaining a degree in it, but is that true of project management? Well yes and no.

If you’re under 25 years of age, with minimal working experience of any kind and you’re thinking about project management as a career – taking a look at the current Bachelors offerings will do you no harm, however not all organisations are ready for a “project management as a first career” graduate. But graduate programmes will be open to you once you complete the degree with some of the largest project led businesses in the UK (think construction, engineering, aerospace and defence)

If you have a career already in another field and are thinking about project management – a Master’s degree in Project Management may be an opportunity to explore. You’ll certainly obtain great knowledge over the course of the degree but a word of warning, when you complete it, it won’t necessarily lead to employment. The bottom line is organisation want to hire people in project management roles who have experience alongside the knowledge.

2. Be an Apprentice

Apprenticeships, again something that wasn’t an option a decade ago, is something which is open to people above the age of 16 and combines the practical with the knowledge learning. These are an option for the younger generation – a chance to earn whilst they are studying and learning on the job.

It’s a viable option if you meet the entry criteria. Organisations such as Royal Mail (Digital Project Manager); Public Health England (Administration Project Management); Wellcome Trust (Business Administration); BAe Systems (Project Management); Siemens and BT – are just some of the organisations with apprenticeships right now.

Personally I see many wins with this option – especially for those who don’t want to go to University; gain great experience in a working environment; and crucially will receive support on the job.

I can’t wait to see the outcome of these apprenticeship schemes for project management and the types of professionals we will see later once they complete their apprenticeship.

3. Make it a Second Career

This is what the vast majority of people working in project management today do, in fact, the latest Benchmark Report from Arras People, puts that figure at 70% of people working in project management today had a previous career in something else before they came into project management.

So what does that mean?

If you ask each person for their story it tends to go something like this.

They worked in an operational role first – perhaps as an engineer, IT programmer, business administrator, accountant or any other job you see in the operational side of a business.

Then they probably gained exposure to working on a project. It’s a common situation that many projects in today’s organisations need resources from the operational side of the business to work on part of a project. These are often called SMEs, subject matter experts. So for example, the accountant is needed because of a large SAP implementation project – the project needs someone who understand the subject matter of finance.

Sometimes they never received any prior exposure to working on a project – sometimes the organisation just thinks, ‘well you’re pretty good at what you do and we have this “special” piece of work that needs managing, do you want to do it?’

In either situation – suddenly they are exposed to project based working and never really want to return to the – now what seems like a pretty dull day-to-day operational role in comparison.

So where does that leave you?

You have to think about where your current position could lead you. And you need a certain amount of luck.

Then you need to take a look at Getting into Project Management for some practical things to think about.

4. Start at the Bottom

Yes there are entry-level roles in project management – these tend to be roles with titles like Project Co-ordinator; Project Administrator; Project Controller, Project Support Officer; Programme Office Co-ordinator and so on.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking these roles need no experience to get into them.

They do. They’re a career in their own right that also need project management training and some core transferable skills.

Take a look at those profiles mentioned above to understand what is required, think about your own transferable skills and past experiences, and bring those to the fore before even considering applying for a position.

5. Carry On Informally

Chances are you’ve got interested in a project management career because of your current circumstances. So many people have exposure to core project management skills in the job they’re doing – regardless of what that job is.

Take the premise of project management – a unique endeavor, using “plan,do,check” as its basic means of getting something done. We do it all the time in our private lives – booking a holiday, decorating a room, planning a wedding. We’re using the principles of informal project management.

And actually there are plenty of people out there who never feel the need to do more than plugging a few gaps in their knowledge with a fundamentals course in project management – or a PRINCE2 course – to carry on what they’re doing – delivering projects in an informal way.

And there are many organisations out there that are equally happy to have someone manage a project in their business that doesn’t necessarily use all the industry best practice that is out there – mainly because their projects are not deemed to be risky,complicated or expensive enough. There’s a lot to be said for a really great SME – with superb management skills – who also knows some good principles of project management.


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About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott
Lindsay Scott is Director of PMO Learning, the PMO training specialist and Arras People the programme and project management recruitment specialists. Lindsay is the project management careers columnist for PMI's Network magazine and co-editor of the Gower Handbook of People in Project Management. Lindsay created and hosts The PMO Conference and hosts the monthly PMO Flashmobs

One comment

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    I have honestly never read such overwhelmingly good content like this. I agree with your points and your ideas. This info is really great. Thanks.

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