Construction management educators listen to industry feedback, so they can better prepare students to assume positions of responsibility, and many firms offer guidance through internships and participation on advisory boards.
“Construction management programs are doing a good job,” says Rodney Pope, vice president and employment manager for Turner Construction Co. in New York. “The colleges in the area that offer these programs are trying to focus on what skills the students need to enter the construction industry.”
Eric Brown, senior vice president of operations and principal of KBE Building Corp. in Framingham, Conn., says his company recruits nationally and looks to several “go-to schools that are doing a wonderful job” preparing young people.
“We have been very successful getting our students jobs, because even in this economy, there is a demand,” says Jacob P. Kovel, PhD, PE, associate professor and chair of the Manufacturing & Construction Management Department at Central Connecticut State University. “We are getting ready to make a generational switch, and there’s a demand for young talent.”
Pope says many young people do not consider construction majors, because they do not understand the professional career opportunities. He adds that Turner looks for students with a base knowledge about construction management, who can communicate well and who have good analytical skills.
Focusing on CM
“What we try to do in our program is not to teach how to design a building, like they do in engineering courses, but how to administrate and manage the construction process,” says Richard Lambeck, PE, clinical associate professor of Construction Management at the New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate. That includes scheduling, estimating, negotiations, legal principles, safety, the development process and ethics in leadership.
Schools keep a finger on the industry’s pulse and future needs through advisory boards and other activities. For instance, when construction firms asked for graduates with more scheduling acumen, the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark (NJIT) added that component to its curriculum. They also have requested students possess more communication skills. Now NJIT provides leadership, writing and other communication classes.
“The technology is nice, but this is all about people and encouraging them to do what you want them to do in a very diverse environment,” says John Wiggins, PE, program coordinator for the construction, engineering technology and construction management programs at NJIT.
Marisa Ventura, a human resources generalist and recruiting lead at The Conti Group in Edison, N.J., expects in the days ahead more owners will opt for the design-build delivery method.
“That will mean it will be even more important for the employees we have coming in to have people skills, to be able to collaborate, work well with teams,” Ventura says.
Lambeck says the industry is looking for people who can give direction and keep it simple so everyone can understand. Another area of concern is risk avoidance.
“You have to know how to communicate, especially to owners, when there are changes to schedule and to cost,” Lambeck says.
“Construction is still and will likely to remain a local business that is relationship based,” Brown says. “It is resistant to foreign competition. It’s also an area ripe for technological advancement.”
Many of NYU’s adjunct faculty work in the industry and bring to the program current areas of concern or ideas to improve the program.
Instructors in Central Connecticut’s program talk with interns’ supervisors about what skills they think the students should have had but didn’t and what skills they were pleased the student possessed upon arrival at the firm. In addition, students take the American Institute of Constructors level one entry exam to check their skills against a national standard. The students also meet with the advisory board for exit interviews.
Construction firms need computer-savvy graduates. Turner often turns to students from architectural and engineering programs, due to their experience with building information management.
NYU offers one-day seminars about BIM and plans to offer a course in the future and has integrated sustainable building techniques into its curriculum.
NJIT will add building information modeling to the curriculum this fall. It has taught sustainability for a long time but will start more LEED-specific coursework in the future.
Graduate students at Central Connecticut can now take a BIM course, and the school is revising its introductory CAD course to include a block on BIM. It also is in the process of developing a sustainable construction for the graduate program.
Looking to Hire
Internship programs give construction firms an opportunity to observe students and whether they fit well with the company culture as well as possess the necessary skills.
By June 2010, Conti had hired more than 90% of its summer interns. Interns at the company undertake a project, work with a mentor to learn more about company culture and values, and at the end, give a presentation about their project. About 65% of the students Conti has hired since 2007 came from civil-engineering programs, because the students graduate with a good understanding of design and the ability to contribute to value engineering.