Help Wanted

Local construction employers are pounding the doors of state colleges, demanding more managers for their increasingly complex and costly projects during one of the largest-ever boom markets.
A construction manager is charged to coordinate and supervise the construction process from the development stage through final construction, making sure the project gets done on time and within budget, said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But as projects grow increasingly complex, more employers seek construction managers with 2- or 4-year degrees rather than promoting from within the ranks.
Times, They Are A-Changin’
“Our projects are becoming so complicated, and the dollars are so big,” said Dr. Dana Hobson, dean of the construction management technology program at Oklahoma State University.
“People with management skills and technical ability are being demanded by industry.”
With construction jobs growing increasingly complex, job openings for managers will exceed the number of qualified individuals through 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
More qualified, experienced managers are needed in the construction industry because of changes in how projects are bid and built, Hobson said.
“It used to be hard bid, and you had a set of plans and specs, and everyone would bid on it, and you’d put together the number, and away you went,” Hobson said.
“Now, we’re getting into the project earlier. We’re working hand-in-hand with the architect and owner to bring it within a certain budget. There is a much greater emphasis on managing the project, dividing it up.
“That requires a higher-level manager,” Hobson said.
Job growth is expected to increase at a rate of 9 to 17 percent through 2015, according to a report given at the 42nd International Conference of Associated Schools of Construction in Fort Collins, Colo., in April 2006.
“For the last 10 years, there has been a shortage of graduates to meet industry demand,” Hobson said. “This isn’t just a problem at OSU or OU – it’s a problem nationwide.”
Hobson has had little trouble finding gainful employment for his students.
“The market is very hot right now,” Hobson said. “We’ve had about 100 percent placement for at least 15 years.”
The senior class at the OSU construction management program, which began in 2003, boasts about 30. The construction management program at OSU is accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering Technology and is associated with the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology.
The number of students admitted to upper-division construction management courses at OSU is limited, but the total number of annual graduates should increase 75 percent to 40 students, Hobson said.
Bill McManus, professor in the construction science division of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Architecture, said demand for construction managers is nothing new.
“There has been a growing demand for professionally-trained managers in construction for some time,” he said. “This year, out of about 35 students in our senior class, only three of them haven’t already accepted jobs. And they won’t graduate for another four months.”
The American Council of Construction Education accredits the construction science program at OU.
Because state colleges are publicly funded, the ability of the program leaders to respond quickly to a surge in demand is compromised.
“By the time we recognize there’s a tremendous need from an industry, you sell the legislature, they appropriate the money – you’re talking about two to three years,” said Mike Taylor, instructor of construction management at Oklahoma State University – Okmulgee, 1801 E. Fourth St.
Sellers’ Market
“It’s not hard to find a lucrative position in construction management right now. There are contractors hiring sophomores and juniors, giving them a laptop, and they’re working part-time while they’re finishing school,” said Danny Kennedy, project manager at Cowen Construction, 1110 W. 23rd St.
“And the contractor often pays for their education,” he said.
Pay is excellent for construction management graduates, especially considering many degree programs last but two years.
“It’s frustrating, because 15 years ago, when I got out of school, I made no where near what these kids are making,” Kennedy said, “and I’m just gritting my teeth.”
The University of Oklahoma construction science program hosted a career fair earlier this month, attended by over 40 contractors.
“That’s even though we only have three students who haven’t accepted jobs yet,” McManus said. “But they’re also hiring students as interns, and they get them to work for them during the summer. They realize they can’t wait until the students are graduates.”
Competition for construction management graduates is stiff among Tulsa’s contractors, said David Hale, business development manager at Key Construction, 5417 S. 125th East Ave., Ste. 201.
“We pay attention to recruitment of these students way before they graduate,” Hale said.
“There are these wonderful intern programs that commence during the first years of a four-to-five year degree program, and we make an effort to get out to these campuses, meet these kids, and employ them during the summer.
“It’s then when we figure out who we want to recruit,” he said.
Subcontractors have an advantage over general contractors in snagging a new construction management graduate.
“Subcontractors actually do the work,” McManus said. “They give students a chance to affect the work and give them a clear career path to move up.
“And subcontractors generally pay a little better than general contractors.”
Students at OSU-Okmulgee, much like students at the other programs in Oklahoma, have multiple job offers upon and even before graduation.
“About 75 to 80 percent of students come back after their second internship with not only a job, but literally, a contract,” Taylor said.
“It’s pretty cool when you’re in college and just starting, knowing there are companies already watching you.”
Great Expectations
The report given at the annual conference of the Associated School of Construction in 2006 suggested the creation of more construction programs could ease pressure on the shortage of qualified construction managers.
Though employers clamor for the less than 70 graduates of Oklahoma construction management programs each year, program expansions aren’t high priorities for college administrators.
“Construction management programs are, in the minds of most administrators of a college, a vo-tech degree,” he said. “We’re not doing that. We’re turning out an engineering technologist who has calculus and statics and strengths of materials and design courses.”
The freshman class at OSU has swollen to about 280 students since the inception of the program in 2003. The program houses but three faculty members, creating a 93-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
“The three of us teach 19 classes,” Hobson said. “We can only offer each class once per year, and we can’t offer multiple sections, because we just do not have the resources.”
Since demand should only increase, why don’t state colleges expand construction programs?
“We don’t have the space and professors,” McManus said. “Thirty-five is about as many as we can have in a class and do a good job. And we don’t have the resources at the university to have multiple sections of classes.”
Freshman classes in the construction science program at OU have boasted about 70 students in recent years. At the beginning of third year, however, professors must whittle that number to about 35.
“We would prefer to have more. We just don’t have the resources to do it. The construction industry wants us to really badly,” McManus said.
Taylor said 100 percent placement has been the standard for construction management programs in Oklahoma for years.
The program at OSU-Okmulgee isn’t growing quickly, but with 40 graduates each year, the school’s output matches those of the state’s four-year universities.
“The problem we all have is adding capacity,” Taylor said. “We could go out and recruit harder, and probably find more young people. It’s really expensive to add capacity these days.”
Instructors for construction management programs are hard to come by, said Taylor.
“Colleges can’t compete with the wages people in the industry are making,” Taylor said. “Most of us who teach have been in construction all of our lives and are starting our retirement.”
Taylor retired recently and was invited to teach at the OSU-Okmulgee program. Taylor worked in the construction business 40 years. For most, leaving the business to teach means taking a pay cut.
“For the most part, our students start out making as much or more money than we make teaching. But, that’s good for them,” Taylor said, laughing. ?

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