Institutional: Learning legacy

SAIT's School of Construction plays critical role in industry's future success

As boomers retire, Alberta is expected to experience a 77,000-person shortfall in workers over the next decade. At the same time, companies will continue to find themselves needing to do more with less-less labour, less money, less time-to stay competitive. Although it might be a surprise for an educational institution, SAIT Polytechnic is stepping up to help the construction industry proactively manage these challenges.

First, and most obviously, SAIT is helping to ensure that labour is available. SAIT's School of Construction offers 5,000 apprenticeship seats across 16 trades, as well as another 800 seats through the two-year technology diploma programs in areas such as civil engineering technology, architectural technology, and engineering design and drafting.

The new four-year bachelor of science in construction project management degree program will graduate another 72 or so people a year when the first class finishes in 2015, and the new Trades and Technology Building, scheduled to open this fall, will allow for 8,100 more full- and part-time learners. Online learning options are also increasingly available, attracting people who might not have been able or willing to leave jobs for apprenticeship training.

"Over 10 years, we feel we will deliver about 20,000 additional skilled tradespeople, technicians and technologists to the industry," says Larry Rosia, dean of the School of Construction.

The right stuff

But SAIT isn't interested in just pumping out graduates. They have to be the right graduates, trained in the right areas, with the knowledge and skills that are going to meet industry's needs. That requires working closely with government and industry to identify areas where graduates are required.

"We watch the Construction Sector Council's employment projects very closely to see where the skill-set shortages are going to be," Rosia notes. This year, that led to the creation of a new insulator apprenticeship program, the first in Calgary. SAIT designed the curriculum and built new labs to make room for the program.

"SAIT has always been an institution that actually listens to industry," says Kees Cusveller, vice-president, business development, Graham Group Ltd. from his Calgary office. "They ask us, as employers, if the programs are offering what we need them to offer. Are the apprentices doing what we need them to do? Are the technology programs providing what industry needs?"

Moving the construction management certificate online is one example. In discussions with industry, Rosia and his team heard that some people interested in taking the certificate program were working on-site, or are just too busy to miss work time for class. The online delivery model solves the problem, meeting the needs of the employee who wants to train and advance, and of the employer who will need people with management skills.

Industry is welcome to bring issues to SAIT. The construction project management degree program is the perfect example. The Calgary Construction Association brought the idea to the educational institution about six years ago when people, like Cusveller, realized that trouble lay ahead.

"The traditional way to become a superintendent or a project manager was to start as a labourer and come up through the ranks," Cusveller says. "We don't have time to do that anymore." He adds that the job has also become more complicated, with complex projects and more technology.

The degree program is the first of its kind in Canada and transfers knowledge and skills much more quickly than working your way up the ladder. Just as importantly, it's relevant because its been built by industry. For example, third-year students take a business skills and processes course that covers the major aspects of the construction business. That wasn't something the School of Construction included when the program was first designed, but it was a must for advisory board members so that students were prepared for the real world of work upon graduation.

To get people into the workforce faster, SAIT is also offering a third-year advanced standing option for the construction project management degree. Graduates of SAIT's civil engineering technology diploma program, or an equivalent, can apply to take a summer bridging program and enter the four-year program in its third year, in order to graduate in just two years.

"We're hoping it will catch on as a [human resources] strategy for construction companies," Rosia says. "They can fast-track those real high performers into a management program and into positions like project manager and supervisor."

Evolution and innovation

Perhaps one of the most surprising ways in which SAIT helps industry, is by conducting applied research that can give companies a competitive edge.

"If a company or an individual in the construction industry has an idea that he or she wants to commercialize and take to market, we will work with that idea and assist them in building the application for it," Rosia says.

Through SAIT's Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS), companies can work on ideas such as developing a new concrete pouring system, a piece of equipment to speed up a process, or even a new process to speed up the entire building process.

Some of the areas ARIS has worked on in the past include green building technology, GIS mapping, and energy-efficiency codes and code requirements.

"SAIT's team, including master trades people with industry experience, will ensure projects align with the needs of private sector partners, with the goal of transforming industry with economic, social and environmental benefits," says David Silburn, research associate, Green Building Technologies, ARIS.

The research potential SAIT holds is exciting to Ken Gibson, executive director of the Alberta Construction Association.

"Construction by its very nature is [about] solving problems out in the field," he says. "Today we have exacting customer requirements, and ever more challenging safety and environmental regulatory requirements, which are a reflection of societal pressure. We have all these forces of change impacting our industry that are requiring new solutions, and fortunately we now have this multidisciplinary problem-solving team at SAIT. What a great resource."

The Green Building Technologies department has worked with a number of partners to have innovative products and processes, such as advanced walls, foundation and roof assemblies using advanced or renewable technologies, developed and proven.

There is a cost to the company. The amount depends on project scope, project management and principal investigator timelines, technical expertise from the college, lab and infrastructure requirements, and material or publication resources.

Provincial and federal grants, and SAIT grant options, may cover part of the cost but companies are expected to cover at least 25 per cent of the costs of research. They don't, however, have to worry about transferring intellectual property.

Says Silburn: "Despite SAIT adding value to the original work, industry partners will retain the intellectual property in exchange for a SAIT royalty fee, negotiated based on expected revenues."



The School of Construction has advisory committees made up of industry members for all its programs. If you'd like to contribute to the curriculum and ensure that graduates are going to meet industry needs in the future, contact the main office at 403.284.8367 or

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