Technical schools in Western Canada are filling a management and supervisory gap by providing bachelor degrees as baby-boomers exit the construction industry taking more than simply technical knowledge.
Baldev Pooni, dean of Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) school of trades and technology said bachelor degree programs are the response to a growing industry need. "There are positions in industry and government where someone with the trade qualifications is ideally suited to the position but they need the related skills such as project management, human resources, awareness of emerging technologies, and labor relations which help qualifies them for supervising others."
The bachelor degree, which is four years with options to receive credit for two years, is what he calls "the next step" in providing those skills to meet the marketplace demands. TRU provides two degrees: a bachelor of technology (which can lead to a master’s in business administration) and a bachelor of technology in trades and technology leadership.
Wayne Hand, dean of the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) school of construction and the environment, said that BCIT offers nine degree programs including having the distinction of being Canada’s first non-university institute to offer a civil engineering degree. The other degrees related to construction include programs such as construction management, architectural science, building science master’s degrees, and environmental engineering technology.
BCIT began offering degree programs 20 years ago and the practice has grown. Hand said other institutions are following and, he believes, the practice of providing degrees will continue. BCIT began offering the bachelor degrees as an option for those BCIT students with a desire to further career paths following technical training. Today, the scope has broadened; the entrants into the degree programs come from a variety of backgrounds. He estimates 80 per cent enrolment in the programs are from individuals currently employed one way or another in the construction industry, have a Red Seal, trades training or some form of university background. The institute has been able to provide bridging courses to help those wanting to work towards a degree.
The mixture of students from different industry sectors has only enhanced the quality of education, Hand believes. He gives the example of the construction management degree.
"It is has been a good mix; you have people with a (two-year) diploma on the technology side, people who are undergraduates but working in the sector and bring experience, people who have trade paths and provide hands-on experience and they all provide feedback. It is working out really well," he said.
The reality of the workplace is also that a degree or bachelor brings a certain instant recognition during hiring, he said. And, it provides a platform for moving into more intense studies such as a master’s degree. (Approximately 40 per cent of those with bachelor degrees in civil engineering go on to a master’s program either at BCIT or elsewhere). The industry uptake of the degree students has been approximately 98 percent (although the figure includes those who are employed and taking on-line courses). But, the figure also reflects the continuing demand for technical expertise with the practical demands sought after in industry. "That is our mandate," said Hand.
Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) offers a bachelor of science in construction project management. Dr. Sujeewa Wimalasena, academic chair for the construction management program, said the program started in 2011 when construction industry members and professionals suggested to SAIT there was a need to combine technical with management skills to shorten the on-site process of acquiring those skills.
"They didn’t want to wait 10 or 15 years for that person to gain experience," he said.
Since the degree program’s launch, he said, the response to the four-year program has been positive. "We have seen the numbers steadily increasing over the past years," he said.
Malcolm Haines, dean of skilled trades at the Northern Institute of Technology (NAIT) said the institute offers two construction related bachelor, a bachelor of construction management and a bachelor of technology management. It also offers a bachelor of business administration that has appealed to individuals looking for more business-related experience in construction.
"The programs are being offered because people are looking to acquire skill sets that advance their careers," said Haines. He said the challenge for NAIT has been to ensure that there are courses that lead from technical skills into degree programs.
Haines said NAIT has successfully implemented bridging courses and earlier set about tracking how students with a trade background (given credit for two years) did in third and fourth year degree programs. "They were finishing with significantly hirer marks," he said. Diploma programs can also be credited towards one year of a degree program.
"Most of our degree students are online during evenings and weekends," he said, adding that providing programs that were flexible to accommodate working student was key in preparing them for the next advancement within their careers.
Haines said NAIT courses also provide not just management skills but there is a focus on finances, not just related to industry but also the student’s own finances. "Some students are earning six figures but do not how to manage their personal finances," he said. It is also important to provide financial management opportunities for students in the event that these students with both technical and managerial skills opt to move into the marketplace and establish their own businesses.
Haines predicts that the trend towards merging technical and degree skills will continue to grow in Canada as more senior executives and managers age-out of the system and there is the need to replace that managerial skill and knowledge.
"We want to offer degree that make sense to the industry and the student plus provides immediate value when that person leaves our program," he said.
Winnipeg’s Red River College also provides a four-year construction management degree, however, because of the high demand for seats, the first year is only open to Manitoba students. However, Red River College has civil engineering and technology course credits that can be transferred into the later years of the program.