For Construction Majors, the Future Looks Bright

The hottest major among college students these days isn’t marketing or engineering (although those are still popular). It’s construction.

According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse on spring 2017 enrollment, “construction trades” had the largest percentage increase in enrollment at four-year institutions — a whopping 26.4 percent jump — compared to a year ago.

The demand for construction graduates could be a big factor in that increase.

At Virginia Tech, for example, 100 percent of the graduates of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction land jobs before they graduate, with starting salaries of at least $66,000.

That’s not atypical, according to Michael M. Holland, president of the American Council for Construction Education, a global advocate of quality construction education. His members tell him the demand for construction managers (CMs) outstrips the supply.

“One hundred percent of the graduates today that want to get a job get a job, and most of them have multiple offers,” Holland said.

U.S. News and World Reports ranks construction management among its 100 Best Jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a higher-than-average 11 percent growth in employment for construction managers in the next 10 years.

Four-year colleges and universities may offer both bachelor and master’s degrees in CM. Typical undergraduate courses include construction and project cost management, estimating, construction materials and systems, labor law and principles of management. Some community colleges also offer two-year associate degree CM programs.

“The education at the four-year level is really aimed at foundational education, but there are some programs that have specializations or focuses in certain elements of the industry like residential, commercial, marine or heavy civil construction,” said Holland.

In the near future, demand for construction managers is expected to remain high. Baby boomers are retiring and millennials haven’t rushed to take their place. But the need could decrease somewhat if the economy takes a downturn and housing and commercial construction projects dry up.

In any construction market, employers will be looking for CM graduates who are comfortable working with the drones, robots and automated equipment that are starting to appear on jobsites. Some college CM programs are preparing their students accordingly. At North Carolina State University, students in the Construction Engineering Group conduct research in several focus areas including Automation in Construction Management. At Georgia Tech, master’s degree candidates can enroll in a class that focuses on the use of jobsite tech such as drones.

One area where colleges and employers alike would like to see improvement is the number of female construction managers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.7 percent of CMs are women, and Holland’s members tell him that only 2 to 3 percent of their recent graduates are women. Many colleges are working to attract more women to their CM programs, and organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction are offering scholarships to young women who want to take advantage of the many opportunities the construction industry offers.

 

Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.