New Bachelor’s Degree Pathway for Tradespeople

New Bachelor’s Degree Pathway for Tradespeople

In previous decades, high school graduates at the start of their career planning had basically two traditional pathways: decide on a college major or enter an apprenticeship in the trades. Both have historically offered great outcomes – but what if there were a way for people to have the best of both worlds? A promising career in the trades, with a high-quality bachelor’s degree too.

That very thing has happened in Northwest Indiana, now that building trades organizations have aligned new options for their tradespeople with educational opportunities from Purdue University Northwest (PNW).

Four out of five construction organizations report they are struggling to find qualified project supervisors. (Source: Fieldlens).


Project Leadership Degree Pathway

Several years ago, the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana (CAF) began working with PNW, Ivy Tech Community College, and local contractors like Tonn and Blank Construction to develop new ways to bring greater numbers of skilled construction leaders into the regional workforce. The need for more qualified project supervisors is pronounced in the construction industry. These individuals are essential for project success, and they rank among the top three most difficult types of skilled workers to find, according to data from Fieldlens, a project management software platform.

At the time this effort started, there was already an existing associate degree pathway for apprentices through Ivy Tech. Individuals in nine different trades could earn an associate degree in Applied Science while they completed their apprenticeships. (Those nine trades would be carpenters, ironworkers, millwrights, electricians, painters, plumbers, sheetmetal workers, boilermakers, and bricklayers). Hundreds of people complete this associate degree every year, but there was no way for these graduates to seamlessly transition their credits into a new bachelor’s degree pathway. So, that’s the primary connection the three partnering organizations focused on first.

Together, the partners formed the new “Project Leadership” bachelor’s degree pathway, officially titled as a degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision. Under this initiative, associate graduates from Ivy Tech’s programming could seamlessly transition into PNW education that develops specific skills to become project supervisors. Classes from PNW’s existing Organizational Leadership and Supervision (OLS) and Construction Management and Engineering Technology (CEMT) programs were blended to provide important leadership and construction management skills that are needed by today’s industry supervisors.

When they transition from Ivy Tech to PNW, students will have about 40% of their total credits needed for their bachelor’s degree. Most students will complete their bachelor’s in about 2.5 years. Courses are structured to enable students to work in construction during the day and learn in the afternoons/evenings.

“Now that Project Leadership is in place, it’s going to be a huge thing for the Northwest Indiana construction industry. Trades organizations now have a distinct track to develop more leaders in the field, while simultaneously giving them real-world, on-the-job experience as they work,” said Kevin Comerford, director of professional development with CAF. “In the very near future, a substantial percentage of current project supervisors will be at retirement age. That’s why it’s so important we begin training the next generation of construction leaders right away.”

“PNW, Ivy Tech, CAF, and industry have worked together to create a program degree path that will be flexible and obtainable for industry workers. Courses, for the most part, are created specifically for the trades co-hort. That means our instructors understand that the students that comprise the class are working individuals and will do their best to provide them great learning environment. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with all the different entities to create a pathway for individuals to advance in their careers,” said Chandramouli V Chandramouli, PhD, PE, professor and chair of PNW’s Construction Science and Organizational Leadership Department.


The Best Candidates

One of the best things about the new Project Leadership program is that tens of thousands of existing construction employees have already earned their associate degrees and would qualify for additional leadership training. Many also have years of experience in the field that would be valuable in a leadership role because the day-to-day activities of a construction supervisor are growing increasingly complex. For example, supervisors must know how to develop site plans, order materials and equipment, control costs, and develop safety plans – all of which would be made more effective by the additional jobsite experience that already exists in the workforce.

Fortunately, now these workers can level up their careers in a much more convenient and straightforward way than ever before. CAF says one of the biggest current challenges is getting the word out to more workers to let them know about the new option.

That’s part of the reason why CAF has launched a scholarship to both market and support the attainment of more construction leadership credentials. Just a few months ago, CAF and the NWI Contractors Association launched a $10,000 scholarship to incentivize workers to pursue a bachelor’s degree and help offset costs. Depending on the number of applicants, some students may even receive funds that cover an entire year of their college education.


Great New Option

Because the new Project Leadership pathway builds upon an already widespread academic foundation, it has created a very promising option to generate the types of skilled leaders needed in the Northwest Indiana construction industry. Workers will not have to begin anew; they’ll only have to continue their growth. And that could be one of the most viable ways to onboard more skilled supervisors into regional construction firms.

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