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The great recession, advancements in technology, and the rise of millennials and generation Z have made permanent impacts on the business of construction. It’s no longer faced solely by caucasian, middle-class men reviewing blueprints and faxing change orders. Today’s jobsite is a dynamic, innovative environment run by highly skilled people of all genders, ages and races. 

As a result, the programs educating today’s workforce have changed. Construction management students require different styles of learning and have different job expectations than past generations. Here are just a few ways construction management programs have evolved to better develop the next generation of construction employees. 

Technology Advancements Create New Challenges

It’s not possible to review industry changes without focusing on technology, which has advanced at a very fast pace in the last decade. 

“The technology that companies are using is evolving on a constant basis, so we’re adopting the same in our curriculum,” says Jose Faria, interim director of Florida International University’s Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability. “We’re using the same software companies use, so when graduates are ready, they come with those skills and are very highly sought after. That’s what makes our students different from everybody else.”

W. Mac Ware has been with The Ohio State University’s construction management program for 20 years. In that time, he’s seen classrooms become much more advanced. 

“The vast majority of students were raised with technology,” says Ware, who’s now a professor in OSU’s construction management department. “Sometimes they may be a bit further ahead than some of the faculty. They are bringing us along.”

BIM, for example, can help students get a better grasp on construction processes. 

“Understanding how a building is put together in a model forces students to understand how a building is put together in real life; it’s a less overwhelming experience,” says David Brooke, operations manager of Hensel Phelps’ construction group based in Greeley, Colorado.

However, the push to increase the use of technology needs to happen in stride. Many programs allow students to plug in information without fully understanding how to determine solutions manually. 

“Technology should not overdrive as far as understanding basic concepts of the industry. You still have to know what the computer is doing to calculate things like unit prices and productivity rates,” Ware says. “We try to make sure students have the opportunity to check the math on the computer programs.”


Marian Parcan-Onderko, the construction management program coordinator for Montgomery College in Maryland, says technology has resulted in increased complacency among younger students. 

“Twenty to 30 years ago, students tended to be more rigorous about learning. With today’s technology, there is a tendency to go about it in an easier way—to do a search and be done,” Parcan-Onderko says. “Students used to be more inquisitive and worked harder. The newer generation lacks a little bit of that work ethic.”

Diverse Students Require Diverse Learning Opportunities

Lessons are being adapted to suit students who have grown up as tech natives. Parcan-Onderko believes students are now more visual learners, so Montgomery College’s construction management program has added varied applications to its curriculum, including online materials and PowerPoint supplements.

However, younger students’ expectations and abilities have presented unique challenges for contractors when managing generationally diverse teams. As such, many construction management programs include lessons on communication. 

“Today’s student has a short attention span; that’s the nature of millennials,” Ware says. “Their supervisors will probably be baby boomers or generation Xers who have been out of school for a while. Everyone was raised with a different frame of reference, so we try to make sure everyone understands where the other is coming from.”

Interest in construction is beginning to increase among young people due to a booming industry in many U.S. cities. That’s the case for Adam Quinones, who started his education at FIU with an undeclared major. When he came home for a break after a few months at school, Quinones noticed many construction projects going on around his home city. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was scared of not getting a job after college. When I came home to Miami for a break, so much had changed in just four or five months. It was the dawn of the construction boom we’re seeing now, and that really resonated with me,” Quinones says. “When I saw the opportunity to build these great structures and change and better the community through construction, I thought: This is my path.”

Quinones’ story is becoming common as more young people learn about the possibility of a lucrative, challenging and rewarding career. 

“The perception of construction is starting to change,” Brooke says. “People are beginning to understand it’s a great industry offering above-average pay for similar positions. That’s brought in more interest to the industry.”

Women are a growing part of the industry too, which is increasingly reflected in today’s construction management programs. Thirty years ago, women consisted of 3 to 5 percent of Montgomery College’s student body. Now, that number has increased to 15 percent, according to Parcan-Onderko. 

“I’ve heard from employers that women bring a different work ethic,” he adds. “Some of my top students have been females.”

FIU has experienced an increase in women in its construction management program as well. Faria says the growth is due to more women striving to make an impact on their communities. 

As the makeup of the workforce expands, construction management programs need to offer diverse opportunities to learn. Today’s student is rarely available full time during the day. Often, students are already involved in the industry, whether it’s through an internship or full- or part-time employment. 

At Montgomery College, more than 50 percent of students are already working in construction. Many decided to attend school to improve their skills, learn more technology or get a second degree to move up in the industry, according to Parcan-Onderko. To help those students succeed, Montgomery College offers evening classes. 

FIU offers an online master’s program, but until recently required classroom time for the bachelor’s program. Though the school offers evening classes for the bachelor’s program, many students had difficulty making it to those classes. 

“In construction, there is a high demand on time,” Faria says. “You never know when a floor will be completed or when issues will occur on the jobsite that will delay operations. Sometimes it’s difficult to leave the jobsite and come to class.” 

As a result, the school has implemented more online classes in its bachelor’s program that can be completed at students’ convenience. 

Considering building activity shows no signs of slowing down, construction management programs around the country are doing their best to prepare students to keep up with demand. From focusing on cutting-edge technology training, developing students’ soft skills, and offering programs and schedules that suit working students, today’s construction management programs are becoming more modern and robust to reflect the new generation of construction industry professionals.

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