The main factor limiting the growth of Iowa’s construction industry is a shortage of workers.
That was the message from construction leaders to state legislators during a recent open house event at the University of Northern Iowa’s Dept of Technology Advisory Council meeting.
The event, the first in a series of open houses scheduled in the coming months, demonstrated the urgent need for UNI’s planned expansion and renovation of the ITC, which construction leaders said would help their companies fill vital positions necessary to keep pace with one of the state’s fastest growing sectors.
“What we’re hearing from construction leaders is that the biggest restriction to growing their company is people, that their company plans are loftier than what they can staff,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “It is critical that we expand and improve this facility so UNI can meet the needs of Iowa’s growing economy.”
UNI is seeking $39.7 million from the state legislature for a $43.9 million transformation of the ITC. The ITC is home to six undergraduate programs and the MS in Technology graduate program. The project includes an extensive renovation of existing spaces and facility expansion. The modernization project would allow the department to boost enrollment by 40%, from 500 to 700 students, to help meet Iowa’s workforce needs. This is the third year the university has requested money from the state legislature for the ITC modernization.
The department serves an important role in the state, as a large percentage of graduates work in Iowa. In 2016, 95% of graduates found jobs within six months, and 90% of those jobs were in-state. More than 2,800 alumni graduating from these programs live and work in Iowa.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast, there is a national projection of 78,000 new construction manager positions needing filled by 2022. Further, as reported in a study produced within the U.S. News & World Report, construction management ranks No. 15 among STEM careers and No. 37 among the 100 best job opportunities. At UNI’s construction management program, there is a 100% job placement with 90% of graduates starting their careers in Iowa. The program has seen a 15% yearly enrollment growth over the past five years and currently has the highest enrollment in history of the program. In Iowa, UNI is the only public university with a construction management degree.
Located on the south side of campus, the ITC is home to the Department of Technology, an umbrella of programs that educate students for technology, manufacturing and construction fields -— some of the fastest-growing sectors in Iowa. The ITC also houses nationally recognized programs such as the Metal Casting Center, a materials research and foundry site providing students hands-on experience working with industry partners. UNI’s center serves more clients than any other metal casting center in North America.
But industry has changed greatly in the 40-plus years since the ITC was constructed. Students now need greater space for collaborative, hands-on learning with industry-standard equipment. The building’s infrastructure is also in need of maintenance; the facility’s systems are stressed to support the department’s technology-heavy requirements.
“As with any industry, educational needs and content evolve with time, and this is no different in the construction industry; what once was hands-on has migrated to technology,” said Jim Kiesey, director of operations for Estes Construction. “The need for collaborative learning environments, classrooms and computer lab allocation is critical for the growth of all programs within the ITC.”
Initial plans for the facility will include adaptable space for new programs such as robotics and advanced manufacturing.
“The ITC modernization will help the department of technology meet existing industry demands, but also adapt to future needs,” said Lisa Riedle, head of the department of technology.
Industry associations have been outspoken advocates for the ITC modernization project. Among them are the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the Foundry Educational Foundation, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a number of contractor associations and Master Builders of Iowa (MBI).
MBI is “all in favor” for the ITC renovation. As the leading association of the commercial construction industry in Iowa, MBI applauded the construction management program’s 100% placement rate for its graduates over the last five years.
“We take pride in UNI for recognizing the importance of educating and training the next generation for great paying jobs like the ones our members create every day and need to fill,” an MBI spokesperson said.