The following is a letter that I recently sent to the dean of a college construction program. I was asked about the school's current curriculum and what suggestions I might make to improve upon it. The dean was soliciting suggestions from all industry professionals.
To ward off any wrong conclusions, the university is not my alma mater, the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
I have read the syllabus of the construction program and it is thoughtfully put together. As you may know, my experience is not in the education environment. That said, however, I do know some of the wishes of construction contractors who will be the employers of a high percentage of your graduates.
1. The career paths of a specialty contractor or subcontractor and a general contractor are equally valuable. Good specialty contractors will always have work and their net profit before tax is often double that of a CM or GC. Specialty contractors are looking for educated people. (Some universities inadvertently promote just the GC career.)
As an aside, you will see a shakeout in the GC segment of the market over the next few years. There are simply too many of them and many of them rely solely on subcontractors to build the work. The economy is cooling, hence a shakeout.
2. Knowing the vocabulary. The proper and sometimes inelegant vocabulary of construction and the jobsite (not the improper words). This improves communication and builds credibility. This also helps in managing labor. See my next point below.
3. Ability to manage labor. The ultimate value is the crafts person who can build with quality, speed, safety and cost. without him or her, projects suffer. Your graduates will have a leg up if they are unafraid and capable of managing field labor. This appears to be missing from many college curricula even though it is a needed skill not possessed by most college graduates.
4. Ability to actually build work. Yes, I know that you don't run a vo-tech school, but the ability to work with your hands and figure out how things go together is a major plus to any person connected to the construction industry. See my point above — the highest unit of value (or what people will pay the most for) is an hour of craft labor. Something has to be done here with work-study or summer internships. This will result in higher contractor satisfaction with your graduates.
5. Construction economics are unique in several ways. Your graduates must be familiar, if not fluent, with variable cost vs. fixed cost, risk/reward inverse to the general business curve, supply/demand, marginal contribution and, finally, the financial measurements used by banks and sureties concerning contractors.
6. Best practices. This a major opportunity for your university. Young college people love best practices because they think of them as new and cool. Other colleges seem to ignore this area. In a more practical sense, however, standardizing major processes helps the construction industry overall and makes individual contractors more profitable.
Dean, I do this for a living. I hope that these thoughts may help in some way. As you might guess, these topics are constant themes that I hear from many of my clients.
Hope all continues to go very well.
P.S. The pre-publication copy of my new book has been mailed USPS and should arrive next week.
Matt Stevens is a management consultant who works only with construction contractors. He has been practicing since 1994. McGraw-Hill published his new book, "Managing a Construction Firm on Just 24 Hours a Day," in 2006. His newest book, "The New Business Model of Construction Contracting," is planned for December. His next Business Management Boot Camp For Construction is Oct. 15-19 in Philadelphia. Additional information about his firm can be found at www.stevensci.com. He can be reached at [email protected].