Construction is an industry in demand. While much of the world has been put on hold because of COVID-19, building has continued. Despite widespread economic slowdowns, the industry continues to experience a worker shortage in construction. A career in construction is a viable option for anyone looking to switch gears during this trying time, and there are many ways to go about getting a new job.
Labourers can join on a project with little to no experience and as little education as a high school diploma or G.E.D. However, there are other positions that require a bit more preparation, including earning a degree in construction.
What is a Construction Degree?
A construction degree is a bachelor’s degree in some area of construction. Offered by colleges all over Canada, these four-year courses generally include work placements while focusing more on the business and management side of the construction industry than trades programs.
It’s not always necessary to get a degree to be a construction manager, but as the industry gets more complex and competitive, it’s becoming a requirement.
Should I Get a Construction Degree?
A construction degree isn’t required for all careers in the field, so going the academic route shouldn’t be taken lightly. A four-year bachelor-level program could run up a bill of $8,500 per year, and students are unlikely to earn money in the field through their placements.
By contrast, a trades program often alternates between learning in-school and earning in the field. This gives students a chance to work their way through school while getting hands-on experience and keeping costs down. Interest-free loans and grants for as much as $1,000 per year are available for apprentices in the trades, further decreasing the overall cost of earning a trade certificate. Some provinces, like Ontario, also offer incentives for trades training with $2,000 grants for those who achieve certification in a Red Seal trade.
Construction Degrees Facilitate Upward Mobility
The cost of education isn’t the only financial implication of choosing a bachelor’s program. A degree in construction management could significantly increase future earning capabilities. For example, a worker in the industrial, electrical, and construction trades could expect an hourly wage of nearly $30 in 2018, while a middle management position might bring in just over $40. On the other hand, a construction manager has an average expected wage of just over $60, with some workers in the Toronto area earning as much as $72 per hour.
The decision as to whether or not to get a construction degree will come down to the end goal: A construction degree is a good idea for candidates who aspire to rise through to become a general contractor, a superintendent, or a project manager. In short, it’s a better option for those who are more interested in the business of construction than working in hands-on positions each day.
A degree can equip students with significant technical knowledge and management skills. They also learn how to responsibly sign off on construction schedules or the safety and viability of portions of the project. Similarly, someone who owns a general contracting firm may find that a degree makes it easier to attract clients as it points to a certain level of expertise or prestige in the field.
To complicate the matter further, credentials don’t stand in the place of workplace experience. It’s particularly true for a practical field like construction. Firsthand knowledge of the industry gives managers clout beyond what education can grant. If both education and experience are required to succeed, the path to success may not be so straightforward. Workers already entrenched in the industry and employed by a good contractor might do well to stick it out, racking up work experience while filling in the technical gaps in knowledge with part-time education.
What Type of Construction Degrees are There?
Post-secondary construction programs vary in length and focus and are available to students of any construction and academic background. Construction management programs typically include work experience of periods up to six months at a time, allowing students to gain experience and contacts in the field. Choosing one will be a factor of previous experience, length of the program, tuition and costs associated with each, not to mention desired career outcomes.
Bachelors of Construction Management
Students who’d like to pursue construction management straight out of high school can take on a four-year bachelor’s program like the new Bachelors of Construction Management from Durham College in Ontario or the program from Red River College. The latter allows students to exit after each of the four years with various credentials, culminating in a bachelor’s degree for those who attend all four years.
Degree Completion Program
There’s another opportunity for students who’ve already completed a two-year diploma program in architecture or engineering, or at least two years in any bachelor’s degree and have relevant construction-industry work experience with construction drawings. A program like the one at BCIT can turn that education into a bachelor’s degree in construction management by providing the two final years of instruction.
Bachelor of Building Science
Rather than focusing on business interests, a bachelor of building science teaches the technical aspects of building, including the aspects of sustainability and human comfort. The curriculum is geared toward candidates interested in landing a career as a project manager or building inspector.
While not technically a degree, a diploma program can be an important stepping stone in a career in construction management. Leading directly to a career in construction administration or supervision, diploma programs focus on developing skills in negotiating and administering contracts, cost estimation, and worksite management and organization.
Is it Worth the Time and Money?
Thankfully, there’s more than one way to go about advancing a career in construction. A bachelor’s degree is a great way to learn things that may be tricky to pick up in the field, thus granting a shortcut to what can be hard-won knowledge. On the other hand, a career construction labourer can gain valuable experience while supplementing it with construction management certifications and courses and along the way.
Talking to successful construction project managers and general contractors about their career paths may provide some valuable insight into the value of earning a construction degree.