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Changing the Face of an Alma Mater: Skanska Executive Leaves Mark on Texas A&M University and the Next Generation of Aggies

Dennis Yung
Dennis Yung
A few of the Skanska USA Building/Texas A&M alumni on the job site, from left to right: Dennis Yung, Executive Vice President and General Manager for Houston and North Texas; Emily Scofield, EHS Coordinator; Matt Edwards, Project Manager; Aidan Bell, Project Engineer; Devin Magnani, Senior Project Engineer; and Brandon Johnson, Assistant Superintendent
A few of the Skanska USA Building/Texas A&M alumni on the job site, from left to right: Dennis Yung, Executive Vice President and General Manager for Houston and North Texas; Emily Scofield, EHS Coordinator; Matt Edwards, Project Manager; Aidan Bell, Project Engineer; Devin Magnani, Senior Project Engineer; and Brandon Johnson, Assistant Superintendent
Many Skanska employees working on the job site for the new Mays Business School Wayne Roberts ‘85 Building are no strangers to the Texas A&M University campus. Among the several alumni working on the project is Dennis Yung, Skanska USA Building’s Executive Vice President and General Manager for Houston and North Texas. Yung graduated from Texas A&M University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in construction science.

As the newest addition to the Mays Business School, the Wayne Roberts ’85 Building will serve as a centerpiece of the new Business Education Complex in College Station, Texas. It is a four-story, 82,500-square-foot facility filled with the latest technology, a grand atrium, cafe, flexible learning studios, huddle spaces, an open-air plaza, and a Center for Executive Development, which will support the business community. Construction is expected to be complete at the end of 2024, and the building is anticipated to open in 2025.

In a recent interview for Texas Contractor, Yung spoke about his experience working on his alma mater, shared how Texas A&M has played a large part in providing Skanska with talent, and addressed the need for young people in the construction industry.

How do you feel going back to your alma mater to work on the Wayne Roberts ’85 Building project?

Throughout one’s construction career, you can make a lasting mark on a community and the way its residents live, work, and play. However, there is something particularly special when you’re able to make a mark on your alma mater. In my case, it is Texas A&M University. Having walked the same paths as current students, attended some of the same classes, and forged lifelong connections, contributing to the university’s physical expansion is an incredible honor.

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This great project is made even more special by the group of Aggie alumni who are contributing to this project alongside me as project engineers, project managers, superintendents, safety coordinators, and interns. Continuing the Aggie legacy, my son, who is studying construction science at Texas A&M in College Station, interned on this project during the summer of 2023.

Working at your alma mater is a unique experience, and the perspective alumni bring to a building project can benefit the institution.

What role does Texas A&M play in providing Skanska with talent?

The Texas A&M University system has outstanding construction science and construction management programs. Nearly every year we have the opportunity to mentor these students through our internship program, and many of these interns are hired once they graduate. We currently have several young project managers and project engineers on this College Station project. And I would estimate about 30 Texas A&M alumni work out of Skanska USA Building’s Houston office alone.

How does that help in a time when fewer people are pursuing a career in construction?

Texas is the fastest growing state, with more than 9 million new residents between 2000 and 2022. The exploding population requires an updated and more robust infrastructure. Encouraging careers in construction among the younger generation is vital to meet these demands. The education Texas A&M provides allows students to see every angle of construction, from the work done in the office to the job site. This valuable look into the industry allows us to communicate with students about the varied career paths construction offers.

Why do you think fewer young people are interested in construction?

I can’t speak to the exact reason of there being fewer young people interested in construction, but I can speak to the need for more people to meet the pace of construction in Texas. There is a skills gap that has become more prevalent, especially as we work to schedule subcontractors. What could be an issue is, young people may not understand the vast array of jobs available in construction. It is a lot more than swinging a hammer.

Today, we have drone pilots conducting energy audits and surveying projects for safety. The technology employed on a construction site, like virtual reality becoming prevalent, creating digital twins, and the sustainability initiatives we work on are second to none. Additionally, there are opportunities in marketing, business development, accounting, and other areas that many young people do not associate with construction, but it is where we need young talent.

As a general contractor, our responsibility extends beyond construction; we are committed to enlightening the next generation about diverse career opportunities within our industry. We host Days of Discovery for middle, high school, and college students, inviting them to explore our job sites firsthand. This experience not only showcases the variety of roles on site but also broadens their perspective by introducing them to offsite careers, ensuring they gain a comprehensive understanding of the sector.

Why is there such a need now for young people in the industry?

According to ABC, the workforce is getting older with one in five construction workers over the age of 55. When people retire, their knowledge goes with them if they have not passed it along to others. Reconnecting with young people and helping them realize the long and varied careers available in construction will help us keep up with the current demand, but also continue to innovate the industry. The new technologies transforming the industry are incredible. Presenting these opportunities to students is up to all of us in the industry, but it also is important for educators to know the possibilities as well.

Are there any other measures Skanska implements to attract and retain young people?

We have a robust internship program, which leads to long-term employment opportunities. We currently have employees who were interns 15, 20, and 25 years ago. When interns come to work with us, they get a taste for the company culture, which is important, but also the meaningful work they get to do. We currently have Texas A&M interns working on the Mays Business School project. Because they are on campus and on the job, they are in the trenches with the project. Plus, we depend on the interns to keep us updated with the weekly job site status reports. This way they are aware of what is happening throughout the project.

Beyond the Day of Discovery, we are active in career fairs. We have partnered with clients like Target and their I Built This event, where students talk to employees and do a small, hands-on building project. Events like this can tip the scale for students. One recent student was so intrigued by a conversation she had with our safety officer, she is now actively pursuing a construction degree so she can go into safety.

It is also beneficial to showcase women in the industry. Overall, women are an untapped talent pool, and they are a great fit in every part of the industry.

Are there any other benefits your work with Texas A&M contributes to your company's recruitment efforts?

As these young people begin their careers, many will work for smaller construction companies. This is a different kind of recruiting, but these subcontractor partnerships are critical to the success of a project. Working in lockstep with subcontractors who are willing to provide quality services and hold exceptional standards is ideal. Many Aggies have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I always look forward to working with Aggies, whether as a Skanska recruit or subcontractor.

What degree do most Aggie alum in your company hold? How does their education prepare them for a successful career?

The degree most Aggie alum hold is construction science. A degree from Texas A&M University is hard won. Consistently ranked at the top of the lists of schools for construction and engineering degrees, these students know how to work, problem solve, and they have Aggie values, which will carry them far in business and in life.

For me, working on the Texas A&M project is a deeply rewarding experience that goes above and beyond the traditional scope of work. This work provides me the chance to give back to the institution that shaped my education and career. And now I get to play a part in doing the same thing for future generations.

As universities invest in campus development, the passion and expertise alumni bring to a project is second to none. In the end, it becomes a strategic advantage for the university as the connection runs deep and the bond between the university and alum persists for many years to come.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dennis Yung is Executive Vice President and General Manager at Skanska USA Building, a project development and construction group, where he oversees building operations for Houston and North Texas. He is also a 1985 graduate of Texas A&M University.

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