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Project Managers in High Demand

 Left to right, Gord Nixon, Larry Rosia and Faisal Arain are spearheading SAIT Polytechnic's new bachelor of science in construction project management degree program in September.
  Left to right, Gord Nixon, Larry Rosia and Faisal Arain are spearheading SAIT Polytechnic's new bachelor of science in construction project management degree program in September.

Photograph by: Dean Bicknell, Calgary Herald, For The Calgary Herald

There is an acute shortage of construction project managers in Alberta, according to industry insiders who say a combination of demographics and a sector that's ready to explode with activity are driving the high level of demand for these specialists.

In Alberta alone, there are 900 major construction projects proposed or underway with a value of $182 billion. One post-secondary institution has launched a new undergraduate degree program in an effort to meet the demand and to train the next generation of construction project managers.

SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary is launching a four-year bachelor of science in construction project management in September.

"Construction project management is a high-demand field that includes the design, tender and management of facilities; the budgeting, planning and scheduling of project activities; and the safe and efficient management of employees, contractors, equipment and materials," says Larry Rosia, dean of SAIT's School of Construction.

In the past, most construction project managers were architects, engineers and designers who gained the experience by working in the field for 10 or 15 years, says Gord Nixon, SAIT's vicepresident academic. "Traditionally, they have been the product of considerable experience rather than a disciplined, focused training program," says Nixon. "The availability of this degree program provides a fast-lane to those interested in careers in construction project management."

Other universities across Canada, including the Universities of Calgary, Alberta, B.C., McGill and Concordia, already offer graduate-level degree programs. SAIT's undergraduate degree is meant to enhance existing training options, says Faisal Arain, academic chair of construction project management at SAIT.

"Those (construction) companies need management professionals quickly," says Arain, who helped develop SAIT's degree program and get it up and running within three years.

Grads will be able to work as assistant construction managers, assistant project managers, site supervisors, construction inspectors, project co-ordinators, estimators, and assistant facilities manager. Students will also have the option to continue on to graduate-level studies. The U of C, for example, requires entrants into its masters program to have four years of industry experience, while other universities' entry requirements vary from no experience to more specialized prerequisites.

When the first intake begins and classes start this September, 32 students will comprise the first cohort. That number is expected to increase with industry demand over the next few years. In the spring of 2012, it will also include a "graduate bridge" program that allows someone with a diploma in civil engineering, for example, to get credit for most of the two years already spent in class and then join the third-year stream after meeting a few additional requirements.

Industry professionals with considerable construction project management experience will also be given credit if they want to attend the program, based on individual assessments, says Arain. SAIT's program covers all phase of construction, from design and engineering to construction to facilities management and uses a blended model of theory, immersive learning and technological training at the institution's main campus.

After third year, students do a four-month work placement and incorporate those skills into their fourth year before graduating. "The expectation is that by the end of four months, students will come back and show what they have learned in industry," says Arain.

Graduates are needed quickly and he says students will not have to look far for employment. The whole program was developed because construction companies and industry organizations kept approaching the school with similar concerns.

"This whole degree program was initiated by the construction industry," he says. "We got approached by many construction companies looking for construction management professionals who could play integral roles in project teams."

Students learn 12 core competencies: construction acumen, contract management, project management, research, communication, conflict resolution, professionalism, cost management, procurement and risk management, building techniques, international project management and business acumen.


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