Winning R.I. Students Vie For National Prize

Sept. 28, 2010

Two teams of construction management students from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., are girding for battle at the upcoming Associated General Contractors/Associated Schools of Construction national student competition after winning the Northeast regional event in Newark last November.

Two teams of construction management students from Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., are girding for battle at the upcoming Associated General Contractors/Associated Schools of Construction national student competition after winning the Northeast regional event in Newark last November.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) created the annual ASC-AGC National Student Competition for undergraduates studying construction, engineering and architecture at ASC-affiliated schools about 10 years ago. Student teams participating in the national event are winners of local contests held in seven regions across the country.

In Rhode Island, three teams of Roer Williams University construction management students prepared for months with their coaches to compete in three contest divisions — heavy civil, design-build and commercial. Two of those teams, the heavy civil and design-build teams, won first place in the Region I (Northeast) competition, held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9 and 10, in Fairfield, N.J.

Winning division teams from seven geographic regions will compete in the 20th annual national competition, scheduled in conjunction with the March 2008 national AGC conference in Las Vegas. Roger Williams design-build teams have won the regional competition in each of the last four years, and the university's team also won the national design-build competition in the spring of 2004.

The Rhode Island chapter of the Associated General Contractors (RIAGC) contributes to the construction management teams from Roger Williams University as part of its many workforce development initiatives and because of concern over the projected long-term shortage of qualified applicants for construction industry jobs. The chapter supports the Roger Williams teams by donating $3,000 each year toward their expenses. The group also sponsors an AGC student chapter at Roger Williams.

Typically, the competition calls for students to be presented with reality-based construction management projects, for which each team of six juniors and seniors has 16 hours to prepare a proposal. Depending on the category and the team's university, the six-student team may include an engineering and/or architecture student as well as construction management students.

On the following day, competing teams present their proposal to a panel of judges — representatives of major construction, architecture and engineering firms who act as the prospective owners of the proposed projects. The teams are judged on estimating, bidding, planning, scheduling, presentation skills, creativity, understanding of sound construction techniques, and thoughtful methodology.

This competition enables students to win trophies and cash awards for themselves and their schools. In a few regions, a concurrently held job fair enables potential employers to recruit participants, who are among the top students in their programs.

"The students really get involved in the competition, and they get valuable practical experience," said Eric F. Anderson, executive director of the RIAGC. "Perhaps the job fair raises the stakes. It certainly offers them another important experience — the chance to talk with potential employers and the opportunity for some seniors to land jobs."

Heavily Recruited Students

Do many students find jobs at the job fairs?

"Companies really seek out the students who compete," said Frederick Gould, PE, CPC, one of two career fair coordinators for the Region I competition (covering 13 states from Maine to Virginia) and a professor of construction management at Roger Williams University. "The students are heavily recruited. Some companies with job fair tables send representatives to the presentations to seek out students to meet with them later on an individual basis."

He noted that construction companies value the opportunity to have a table at the fair, each paying $2,000, which helps support the competition. For competition sponsors, who prepare and conduct the competition challenges, a job fair table is part of their sponsorship package. This year, Region I recruiters saw 120 of the best construction management students in action as about 20 teams competed in the three categories.

Despite the recruiting activity at the job fair, Gould says that construction employers anywhere will value the extensive experience the students get in preparation for the competition as well as the results of the competition itself.

"The competition experience is much more than a two-day project," he explained. "The preparation is almost like an extra class of independent study that the students take on their own time. They set up appointments with contractors, architects and engineers, they meet with mentors, and they do weekly dry runs in preparing and presenting projects. The entire process becomes a valuable part of their résumés, their networking and job interview experiences."

Construction Workforce Development

In fact, the lack of skilled construction employees at every level is a primary reason that the RIAGC supports construction workforce development through a variety of programs. In addition to its affiliation with the RIAGC student chapter at Roger Williams University, the chapter has provided $10,000 grants in each of the last two years to the New England Laborers Union charter school in Cranston.

Most recently, the RIAGC worked with BuildRI, a labor-management partnership organization, to provide a $250,000 grant from the union-supported RIAGC Industry Advancement Fund to help renovate office and classroom space that The Providence Plan will lease for its YouthBuild Providence job-training and education programs.

The RIAGC also works with secondary schools, such as the Warwick Career and Technical Center and the Chariho Career and Technical Center, to accredit their residential carpentry programs to meet the uniform national standards developed by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) for the national AGC organization.

In addition, the AGC works through its local chapters to accredit curricula and instruction standards for commercial and industrial construction crafts for schools that offer brick masonry, heavy equipment operation and general carpentry programs.

Construction Job Growth

Confirming the need for construction workforce development, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2006–2007 includes a 2004 to 2014 projection of an 11.4-percent increase in construction employment, from 7 million to 7.8 million. "Demand for new housing and an increase in road, bridge, and tunnel construction will account for the bulk of job growth in this supersector," it notes.

Of the 7 million construction industry jobs held in 2004, about 431,000 were held by construction managers, according to the BLS, over half of whom "were self-employed, many as owners of general or specialty trade construction firms." The Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2006-2007 also observes that "excellent employment opportunities" are "expected to continue even as college construction management programs expand to meet the current high demand for graduates." Despite temporary ups and downs, it projects an increase in construction management employment at a rate "about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014." That rate is about 13 percent, and the handbook states that "the number of job openings (for construction managers) will exceed the number of qualified individuals seeking to enter the occupation."

Such statistics underscore the importance of AGC workforce development initiatives like the ASC-AGC competition to both students and contractors alike, according to Anderson.

"The competition enables students to display their skills to a number of potential employers simultaneously," he emphasized. "Conversely, the regional job fair is a terrific opportunity for contractors to recruit the best students in the business before they graduate.

"That's vitally important during an era when contractors are not able to find enough skilled construction management employees."

(Ed.: Article provided by Chaffee Communications for Rhode Island Associated General Contractors.)