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New College program developed to train leaders for in-demand construction management careers

Angela Gismondi
New College program developed to train leaders for in-demand construction management careers

The new Construction Management — Honours Bachelor program at Durham College was developed to prepare students to answer the call from construction employers who need workers with the right knowledge and skills to fill leadership and management positions in the residential and ICI sectors.

“Part of our program approval process includes surveying our local industries, our local employers and we did hear very loud and clearly from those surveys that they are having difficulty finding employees with the right skills, the right competencies,” Dr. Elaine Popp, executive vice-president, academic at Durham College said during a recent interview with the Daily Commercial News. “Knowing what they were looking for we designed our program to prepare our grads to meet their needs.”

The first intake for the program, which will be offered through the School of Skilled Trades, Apprenticeship and Renewable Technology (START), will be this fall.

The four-year degree will be offered at the Oshawa and Whitby, Ont. campuses. The program will focus on competencies in project management, site planning, estimating and bidding on contracts.

“We have significant bench strength, faculty expertise as well the appropriate facilities,” said Popp.

“We’re really excited that we’re launching this program at a time when the need is so strong in Durham Region and Ontario.”


Strong construction sector means grads will be “sought after”

There are a number of factors that drove the program model, said Rebecca Milburn, executive dean, START.

An increase in construction activity was a major one.

“When I say expansion in the area, I mean across four disciplines of construction: residential, industrial, commercial and institutional,” explained Milburn, adding the focus on all four sectors sets the program apart from others. “We are seeing huge growth across those four sectors, coupled with the average age of a skilled trades worker going up, so huge retirements.”

Student demand was also a factor.

“The programs offered in START have been over-subscribed,” she explained. “We usually see probably five applications for every one seat I can offer on the post-secondary side, so the evidence is there for applications.”

In addition to START, the program will also be delivered through the college’s schools of Science and Engineering and Technology and Business, IT and Management. The multi-disciplinary nature of the program is another element that sets the program apart, said Popp.

The program weaves together theories, principles and practice, said Milburn.

“The applied element of our degrees is something that sets us apart too because we design the curriculum not just to be the theory but also how are we going to use the theory, how is that going to come to life,” she noted.

“I look at this degree as an intersection of three pieces: people management, human relations, conflict resolution, mediation, leadership; trades knowledge, site management, health and safety; and then the technical knowledge, project management, bid process, RFP process, estimating and accounting.”

Work placement gives students first-hand experience

There are also two work integrated learning opportunities embedded in the curriculum.

“Between year two and three it’s a 420-hour placement and between year three and four it’s another mandatory 420-hour placement,” added Popp. “In the final semester, the eighth semester of the program, there is an integrated project studio course which looks for the students to demonstrate they have mastered the competencies required over the four years of study.”

On the diploma level, Durham College works closely with Habitat for Humanity, the Durham Region Homebuilders’ Association and smaller local companies as well.

“I’ve heard a ton of feedback about how valuable they (work placements) are and the students either actually launch into a full-time career with the company or they get an apprenticeship,” said Milburn. “There are two huge pathways out of a post-secondary skilled trades program and apprenticeship is a big one for our students.”

While COVID-19 has impacted the START programs at the college, especially the hands-on component, Milburn doesn’t see it as a negative.

“Our students learn in real environments and so if we get impacted by COVID, guess what, so does industry, so we continue on and mirror what is happening in industry. I think that prepares our students even more for the real world,” Milburn noted.

“A lot of the big-ticket projects haven’t stopped either and I think that’s one of the reasons why we have continued such strong performance in terms of student enrolment. Employers need them. They haven’t stopped. I think it’s only going to uptick even more once we move into a more open state.”


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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