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Ask the Expert: Construction

Construction IE

A: The involvement of IEs in the construction industry is a growing trend.
The three-year rotational program sounds like an excellent one, and the three areas are core competencies for construction professionals.
Supply chain approaches are gradually emerging but are likely to be found with construction projects for large owners that may ask for its inclusion as the savings work in their favor as well. Similarly, lean construction is also emerging slowly because of the need to have all the players on the same page.

Sustainable construction is also becoming a high-demand area. More and more owners are asking for green architecture, and builders are increasingly becoming certified to erect buildings with minimal release of greenhouse gases. Many builders do not compete for such projects because of inexperience.

An operations research background could be applied to the site logistics and to determining and reducing project risks.
You could improve your knowledge base with knowledge of planning/scheduling software. You could also obtain a project management certification, which would increase your future value as a project manager.

While you may not want to pursue an M.S. in construction management at this time there are programs that can give you a graduate certificate that can count toward the M.S.

Lincoln Forbes, Ph.D., P.E.

Building an IE Career

A: An IE degree is excellent preparation because IEs are trained to think analytically and have several tools available to improve the performance of any type of organization. IEs also have the advantage of good communication skills and an ability to promote teamwork and get everyone working toward the same goal— the project—without the animosity that characterizes most construction(and reduces project success and, ultimately, stakeholder satisfaction).

An IE would need to take several courses in construction-related topics in order to hit the ground running: legal aspects of construction, construction materials and equipment, construction project management, blueprint reading and estimating, construction safety, specifications and building codes, and economic and financial planning for construction, for example.

Of course, one could start work for a construction company if one had knowledge of materials, equipment, specifications, building codes, and construction management and then take continuing education courses to fill the gaps. Another route is to earn an M.S. in construction management after obtaining a B.S.I.E.

A number of construction companies are beginning to institute quality improvement programs, and that is a naturalfor IEs. Increasingly, forward-thinking companies need IE expertise to apply advanced concepts such as automation and lean methods.

Lincoln Forbes, Ph.D., P.E. 

Course Advice

A: With regard to a construction course, I would heartily recommend "Construction Project Management," or a similar course. Even though you may have taken project management courses before, construction management would provide you with specific knowledge of the processes involved and how the activities of various trades are planned for and deployed. Having learned project management concepts before will free you up to focus on the construction-related applications. By all means you should become familiar with software such as Primavera that is one of the staples in the industry.

As you are near the end of your program you may not want to add too many courses, but there are certificate courses available in blueprint reading and building codes. It would also help you to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity — working on building houses is a great learning experience. Also try to network with such organizations as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Associated General Contractors (AGC) — they typically have meetings once monthly in major cities around the country, and informal contacts made there can allow you to show your potential.

Overall, your strength would be the IE's ability to help bring people together and to promote teamwork. However, the more you can learn about the construction process, the better you can persuade employers they would not be starting from square one with you. Familiarity with software and planning activities are marketable skills. It would also help to talk with your university's construction department. I am asking Dr. Mike Mullens of University of Central Florida's Housing Constructability research to add some further thoughts, if possible. (In addition to my recommendation, Dr. Mullens relayed further feedback — the student should consider a course in Estimating and Scheduling. If the student has not taken other construction courses or worked in construction, "an introduction to the construction industry" or similar course would be an excellent choice.)

Lincoln Forbes, Ph.D., P.E. 

The material presented herein is provided for general information purposes only. It is not a complete or all-inclusive explanation, and is not to be construed as engineering advice or engineering services for any specific questions, facts, or circumstances. It has been provided by sources other than IIE and does not represent the views, opinions, or knowledge of IIE. IIE does not provide engineering services or engineering advice and does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy of the information presented here.

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