How Colorado universities are meeting the growing needs of the construction industry

Education Report: Construction management programs prepare project managers and other supervisors

Students in the Construction Management program at Aims Community College work with surveying equipment. 

In 1949, Colorado A&M, the college in Fort Collins that is now Colorado State University, graduated its first class of Light Construction and Marketing degree students. According to a marketing piece from CSU celebrating the history of the Department of Construction Management, the 10 students completed courses that included freehand drawing, woodworking, inorganic chemistry, English composition, blacksmithing and business administration. The program had been launched with funding from construction company Johns Manville and others to solve the housing shortage after World War II.

CSU’s Construction Management (CM) program has grown. In December 2019, 87 students graduated from the program, and 96% of them had jobs in place before they graduated. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Construction Management are so in demand, says Scott Glick, CSU associate professor of construction management, that the department’s spring 2020 career fair sold out in hours and necessitated a waitlist for other potential employers who wanted to attend.

CM has grown as the construction industry has grown, and now there are at least seven such programs at Colorado colleges and universities. Graduates learn scheduling, estimating, project cost control, surveying, contracts, building information modeling (BIM) and also soft skills. “As construction projects become bigger and more regulated, the role of the CM is increasingly important,” Glick says. “Construction management students follow a project manager or superintendent track in the industry.”

At the University of Denver, the construction management program in the business school helps managers not just oversee building construction but create facilities and environments that help workers become higher performers. “Construction management is aligning more closely with business versus aligning with engineering,” says Barbara Jackson, director of the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management at DU’s Daniels College of Business. “We are talking about using the built environment to enhance the business’ mission, its environment and productivity of its personnel.”

Adelicia Colmenero, who earned a master’s in Real Estate and Construction Management at DU in 2015, is a project manager at the commercial construction company Swinerton. She says construction management programs teach the fundamentals of construction, such as safety, scheduling, estimating/cost management and quality. “They are helping create the next generation of leaders,” she says. “The programs help develop critical-thinking skills that often help push the envelope, or provide a fresh lens to solving problems, which is highly sought after in today’s competitive construction market.”

At Aims Community College in Greeley, the CM associate’s degree program works closely with Aims’ Engineering Technology Computer Aided Drafting program. “There has been this misperception that there isn’t a lot of technology in the construction industry,” says John Mangin, chair of the department of Construction and Engineering Technology. Graduates gain not only technology expertise but business management skills. “What I tell my students is, one way or another, every company does this stuff. They estimate, they schedule, they do project management, so it’s a matter of how it’s formalized.”

At Colorado Mesa University (CMU) in Grand Junction, the construction management program is part of the school of computer science and engineering. The first CM classes were offered in fall 2007; the program now has 151 students.

Troy Miller, program director of Construction Management, says the program has grown because of the current and predicted economic conditions of the overall construction industry, and also because the CMU program has open enrollment with no caps. Graduates work in entry level construction management positions such as construction estimator, assistant construction project manager or assistant project superintendent. “We are not a craft program that trains skilled labor,” Miller says. “However, in many courses, the student does experiment with concepts of different construction trades, giving students important hands-on experiences.”

Individuals with degrees in construction management fill a variety of needs in the industry, says Mike Menke, project engineer for FCI Constructors Inc. “Typically, a large general contractor would have their entry-level, degree-holding personnel focus on specific scope management through product review and quality control,” he says. “In contrast, a smaller specialty subcontractor would have this individual wearing multiple hats and fulfilling a broader level of duties as they learn the business.”

Menke is also chair of the Northern Colorado Leadership Council, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Rocky Mountain Chapter. Last March, the national ABC hosted its annual Construction Management Competition at the ABC Convention 2019 in Long Beach, California. The 21 teams of undergraduate students were judged on project management, safety, quality control, estimating and presentation skills.

The winner: a team from CSU.

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