Construction Executive: Colleges Are Retooling Their Construction Programs To Suit Today’s Students And Employers
What happens when 20 million people are expected to move to Texas in the next 30 years? Local contractors and college construction programs get busy.
Already last year, 20,000 homes were built in the greater Austin area to accommodate the anticipated population influx, which is estimated to require the construction of 50 percent more residential units than the current stock.
Texas State University is experiencing correlating growth in its construction science and management program to the tune of 453 students enrolled today versus 244 in 2013, due in part to the economic recovery and the school’s accreditation through the American Council for Construction Education. Correspondingly, the school’s construction job fair went from 16 companies participating in 2009 to a total of 140 employers at the fall 2016 and spring 2017 events.
“This growth has provided excellent internship and employment opportunities, with students receiving multiple job offers,” says Vivek Sharma, senior lecturer in Texas State’s department of engineering technology. “Based on a survey of our recent graduates, starting salaries are averaging $60,000, with about 70 percent of undergraduates going into commercial construction and 30 percent entering residential construction.”
The numbers also tell a story at Colorado State University, where enrollment has gradually increased to 750 students since the economic downturn knocked it back to less than 500 around 2009 and 2010. Today, more than 95 percent of construction management students are placed in a job prior to graduation.
“Our last two job fairs sold out in less than a week,” says Anna Fontana, internship and outreach coordinator at Colorado State. “We cannot keep up with the demand for both interns and full-time graduates.”
According to December 2016 statistics compiled by Colorado State’s construction management department, undergraduates received an average of 2.6 job offers per student with an average base salary of $62,000. Two-thirds of job placements were with an internship sponsor.
“Because the market is so strong, our students seem more focused on finding the best fit in terms of company culture instead of just focusing on finding a job that pays,” says Kayla Boos, Colorado State’s student recruitment coordinator and academic advisor. “They value employers that care about their employees, they want to do meaningful work, and they appreciate sustainability, work-life balance and a competitive starting salary.”
MASTERING THE RIGHT CURRICULUM
Georgia Tech looked at the downturn as an opportunity to move its undergraduate construction management program to the civil engineering department and retool its four master’s tracks (residential development, facility management, construction management from the contractor’s perspective and program management from the owner’s perspective). Prior to 2009, the school put all of its efforts into the residential and construction management tracks, but that didn’t align with what was happening in the economy.
“It used to be that almost 90 percent of students were professionals taking classes in the late afternoon or evening, but during the downturn we saw more full-time, international and out-of-state students,” says Daniel Castro, chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Building Construction. “It was a sudden change, but we had to adapt.”
Now, Georgia Tech offers more courses during the day to cater to the 50 percent of enrollees who are part-time students and part-time workers. In addition to moving the residential program to a new master’s degree in real estate development (pending approval by the Board of Regents), the school expanded the program management area of study to cater more to owners.
“We saw that regardless of the economy, owners are always maintaining and building facilities,” Castro says. “We learned our lesson and are diversifying our program.”
To that end, in February Georgia Tech launched a new professional master’s in occupational safety and health (PMOSH)—the first program of its kind in the state. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, employment for occupational safety and health specialists is projected to grow 7.3 percent from 2012 to 2022. In 2013, 2,753 positions in the field required a master’s degree (a 60 percent increase since 2010), yet only 18 percent of safety professionals had one.
“Although safety hazards are inherent to the construction process, they tend to be addressed separately rather than as an integral part of it,” Castro says. “Through PMOSH, we aim to shift the way safety is treated by equipping graduates with the knowledge, skills and confidence to address safety holistically.”
The PMOSH degree—designed for working professionals in construction, manufacturing and related industries—covers fundamentals and standards, as well as business aspects of safety such as leadership, communication and teamwork. Technology is another important piece of the puzzle.
“Rather than interpreting statistics and learning about causes and risks after accidents have happened, today’s technologies are designed to help us minimize safety risks so significantly fewer accidents occur,” Castro says, citing the importance of BIM and sensors to prevent collisions. “PMOSH exposes participants to current and emerging technologies so they can use them to strategically reduce hazards throughout the construction process.”
The degree takes two years to complete and is offered in a flexible online structure with three on-campus sessions—a hybrid format that suits professionals who want a challenging program but can’t afford to disrupt their work schedules.