A college building science laboratory.

Tobias Newham, The Beck Group

With the increasing shortage of jobs in construction, partnerships between industry and academia are needed to attract a highly skilled workforce and fill a growing gap in this area.

These partnerships are essential for the construction industry as they provide new and innovative curricula and professional education facilities designed to expand and improve the training of the future workforce in the industry.

This collaboration has great potential to reverse the downward trend in construction workers across the country. According to the USBureau of Labor Statistics, vacancies in the construction industry are projected to grow to more than 740,000 vacancies by 2026.

An alternative to rising college costs

A renewed focus on construction vocational training is at a critical point as rising costs of attending traditional four-year colleges and universities limit student access to these facilities.

As a result, more and more students have opted for cheaper educational alternatives, such as careers in construction at two-year community colleges. Gen Zers tend to view higher education as a value proposition. They avoid areas of study at higher education institutions that don’t provide a solid return on their investment.

In contrast, vocational training conveys specific skills that are in great demand in construction and other industries.

In addition to affordability, vocational training institutions have noticeably improved their image. For the most part, they no longer have to grapple with an outdated characterization of training grounds or “shop” classes for low-paying worker jobs.

Today these schools are mainly viewed as an opportunity for a rewarding, stable and challenging career without being deeply in debt.

In addition, community colleges working with the construction industry develop hands-on curricula to ensure that what students are learning is easily applicable in the field. These schools also offer the latest in construction technology to provide students with the expertise to thrive in this increasingly technology-driven business.

For this approach to work, the industry must also work with public school districts to create programs that can identify and involve students who may have an interest in construction.

For example, middle school students enrolled in a professional program can earn an industry certificate or associate degree by the time they get their high school diploma, which gives them a head start in their careers.

It can also help reduce the number of early school leavers, as job opportunities in construction can be the right incentive to keep these students in school.

Vocational training isn’t just for those who are still in high school or who have just graduated. It can provide valuable training for construction workers looking to brush up on their job skills or provide a new career path for laid-off workers and others who have faced economic difficulties during the pandemic.

How innovative building design promotes learning

However, the success of the industry academic alliances depends heavily on the learning environment. Many buildings that house professional programs are required to adhere to designs that allow new concepts and skills to be imparted in the classroom to enhance the overall learning experience.

The stereotypical image of vocational schools is that they are located in nondescript buildings like a warehouse in an industrial park or some other remote part of town. The next generation of vocal buildings will be built in more populous and attractive environments.

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For example, the Building Science building at Dallas College Coppell Center shows how some vocational schools are taking a fresh and unique approach to training future site managers.

The Community College, which has been providing professional construction education for more than two decades, has modernized its school and program due to its partnership with the Construction Education Foundation, which works with the school to develop a curriculum.

This partnership is the cornerstone of the program’s uniqueness, a powerful combination that will produce workers with the academic qualifications and industry knowledge required to succeed in the construction profession.

Another key difference between typical vocational training programs and the Dallas College program is that the latter incorporates didactic elements into the design of the building, or essentially creates a building that teaches.

The 96,000-square-foot training facility in Coppell, Texas, is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2021 and will offer a state-of-the-art learning environment and flexible spaces that can adapt to the changing demands of the construction profession.

The building for civil engineering is in a prominent location near a busy motorway. This location is designed to help strengthen the school’s vision of vocational education and increase student pride in the school.

The building will house high-tech interactive laboratories, classrooms and other spaces that support the latest technologies, systems, construction methods and energy efficiency. In addition, the project is aiming for a LEED v4 new building silver rating.

Designed as a teaching resource, the building has exposed ceilings that allow students to easily examine the building’s mechanical systems, plumbing, electrical wiring, and other construction systems and methods taught in the classroom.

The building, which is partially funded by industry partners, has various construction machines donated by construction companies, which allow students to gain hands-on industry experience.

The design of the building also includes a modular system that allows the school to add more classrooms and workshops as the program increases. The modules are grouped into collaborative spaces where students gather and reinforce what they are learning in the classrooms and workshops.

Tobias Newham is an Associate Principal at The Beck Group, an integrated design-build company.