This article originally appeared in the 2019 edition of Building the Southern Tier and is reprinted with permission from DEL Communications Inc.
By Paul Adair
There is currently a pressing need within the US construction industry to fill a dearth of managerial and supervisory roles, a void largely brought on by the large number of construction professionals now aging out of the industry and retiring. According to EMSI (Economic Modeling Specialists International), in 2012, 53 percent of skilled trades workers were over the age of 45, and almost 20 percent were between the ages of 55 and 64; numbers that would seem to indicate that the demand for a supply of new workers won't be soon diminishing.
In addition to retirement, the construction industry has become increasingly intertwined with cutting-edge technology and innovation, which has created a challenge for many construction tradespeople now working in the field who may have a difficult time transitioning to the software-centric role that superintendents often find themselves in.
Alfred State College has responded to this industry challenge by developing its new Bachelor of Technology (BTech) in construction supervision degree, which will be seeing its first crop of graduates entering the workforce later this year.
"It used to be that a skilled tradesperson would get all of their training on the job and advance up the ranks, from apprentice to journeyman, to foreman, to superintendent," says Timothy Piotrowski, professor, Civil Engineering Technology Department at Alfred State. "But with the complexity of today's projects - and the sophistication of project management in general, where almost everything is managed with some kind of computer software - learning the kind of specialized skills you need for a supervisory role out in the field just takes much longer than it used to, if it's even possible.
Filling a need
The BTech in construction supervision is a completion degree that adds valuable construction business skills to a student's existing technical background, whether that's in the fields of carpentry, heavy equipment, electrical, mechanical, architecture, or any other.
"The BTech in construction supervision fills a need for those students with a specialty sub-contractor background, giving them the additional management coursework they wouldn't be able to get otherwise out in the field," says Jeff Marshall, associate professor, Civil Engineering Technology Department at Alfred State. "The construction industry of today demands such a specific set of skills, and our program sets out to develop a potential employee who's ready to hit the ground running - eager to get in there and start managing construction projects."
Prospective students who enter the program must have an associate degree or 60 credits in a related curriculum with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0. Upon graduation, all successful students will have a complete and working knowledge of construction management skills, such as estimating, scheduling, project administration, and contract law. In addition, there's an intense focus on business content, from accounting to economics, to principles of management. These skills - along with the student's previous technical competencies - will make a BTech in construction supervision graduate a prized asset for any company involved in the construction industry.
"We want motivated students with any kind of construction background or degree who have the vision to know they're going to further themselves into a management or supervisory role with additional education," says Piotrowski. "We are looking for the students with foresight who are looking further into the future of their careers and asking, 'How am I going to stay in this industry as long as I can?' For these kinds of students, this program will give them an avenue toward advancement sooner than if they simply worked their way up the ranks."
From the classroom to the job site
By the completion of this program, students will be able to experience how their skills can be applied to build the environment in which they live. As such, the BTech in construction supervision program also includes a full-semester internship where students will have an opportunity to put academic skills into practice within a professional setting, while also building critical working relationships and valuable industry networks.
The response from both industry and students to the quality of the program has been overwhelmingly positive, and each of this year's graduates have obtained multiple job offers; many received their offers through the full-semester internships in the back half of the program.
"What attracted me to the program was that it was a new program which allowed a lot of one-on-one time with my teachers," says senior Brandon Davis. "I also appreciated that it gave me an opportunity to apply my specific background trade (electrical) to my schooling. The program has allowed me to put together a great resume that stands out from the crowd and employers seem to love. I have a project manager/estimator job waiting for me with an electrical contractor, Schuler-Haas, based in Ithaca."
While this program can be completed on campus like a traditional undergraduate program, one of its big advantages and benefits is that all of its courses are offered online, which allows students and working professionals from across the US the flexibility to continue working as they fulfill the requirements of the degree over the internet.
"By primarily taking my classes online, I've been able to complete assignments and study on a schedule that works for me; without this combination of on-campus support and online flexibility, I'm not sure I could have been so successful," says senior Travis Randall. "I strongly believe that anyone with the right attitude can do the same thing I've done and, having worked in the construction field for 14 years, I'm very confident that what I've learned here at Alfred State will allow me to continue advancing in my industry for years to come."