Building the Next Generation of Construction Leaders: Words of Wisdom from Chairman Dave Riley

The construction industry, like many others, is currently looking for ways to build the next generation of talent amid global challenges including inflation, supply chain issues, and persistent workforce shortages.

As a result, it is more important than ever to recruit and train young professionals, as they are the future of business. This has been a priority for Riley Construction through our long-standing apprenticeship and internship programs, which give high school and college students an advantage in their construction careers.

We have been fortunate to work with a number of bright young people over the years, many of whom start out as interns and eventually grow into leadership roles. Personally, I love having the opportunity to speak with each of them to learn about their individual interests. I’m also pleased to share the following pieces of advice I’ve learned along the way.


 Today’s professionals use multiple social platforms throughout the day for various reasons: to read the news, to share information about themselves and their work, as well as for personal entertainment. These digital-forward behaviors are a major shift from the networking events and conferences my peers and I attended to learn and showcase our accomplishments. While I do see a lot of value in virtual platforms, I feel that younger professionals need to find the right balance between their online and in-person engagements.

The construction industry is one that relies heavily on social interaction – whether that’s talking to an architect during planning or discussing a project with a tradesperson on-site. While we can save resources and energy by conducting Zoom meetings, we can also lose some vital social skills if we’re hiding behind our screens all day.

With the pandemic easing, Riley has added more in-person gatherings and projects to its daily routine, enabling everyone to build stronger relationships and collaborate. Through these events, our company can stay more in tune with the next generation’s desire to give back to their communities.

At Riley, our younger employees created and led a community service committee to explore ways in which our team can help others – whether that’s taking part in an environmental initiative or packing food or school supplies for local families. While working together, team members also hone their teamwork and networking skills.


 We’re living in a world in which people can Google pretty much anything. The generations seen as digital natives typically excel at this. While searching the internet is the easy route, there’s a risk of losing critical thinking skills. It’s also important to understand that not everything posted on the web is 100% accurate.

At Riley, we’ve created our InSTEP® planning process to challenge ideas and advance critical thinking. Instead of solely using a software program to develop project schedules, we combine technology with in-person check-ins with team members, clients, and subcontractors to help us rearrange schedules and find the best ways to accomplish things. Through InSTEP, our younger leaders are paving the way for planning that combines modern technologies with more traditional methods.


 Gone are the days when someone is tied to their desk for 12 hours. Everyone can now access colleagues from their mobile phones or laptops while working away from the physical office.

Younger employees have become accustomed to this versatile workstyle. As someone who worked around the clock in the office for many years, I’ve learned some lessons about the importance of balance and flexibility. As leaders, we need to understand and accept that this is the direction things are moving and learn to embrace it.

I host regular fireside chats with all Riley employees. Conversations typically involve me asking workers what their average day looks like. I want to hear that, after dinner, Riley employees are spending quality time with their families, not answering emails. A productive team member is someone who balances work and personal time.

We also use technology to benefit our clients. For example, we are now spending more time focusing on how we can use tech to make projects more efficient, safe, and cost-effective. A lot of new ideas are driven by the younger employees, which is encouraging. I always tell people when they start at Riley: Just because we have been doing it one way for the last 30 years, does not mean there is not a better way.

We welcome innovation and want our employees at every level – from new graduates to senior leaders – to tell us if there are new and better ways of doing things. Technology is certainly making Riley a better, more competitive company, but again, we always aim to balance it with personal interactions and solid project management skills.


 Through Riley’s HiFi values (humility, integrity, flexibility and initiative) we aim to guide the next generation on the expectation of how we do business at Riley. That starts with humility – the demonstration that we are open to ideas, provide and accept constructive feedback, and are ready to listen to other points of view. This attitude is one that employees regularly note as a reason they love to work here. Humility is also a skill that can take some practice. It’s the realization that no one must be the smartest in the room. Our team as a whole works to find solutions and create something incredible.

In our ever-changing industry, flexibility and initiative are key. Our team members need to be able to adjust to fluctuating market conditions, focus on relationship building, and support transparency.

These are the hopes I have for the next generation, and I’m proud to see them coming to life every day at Riley Construction.

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