University of Miami

11/22/2023 | Press release | Archived content

Construction apprenticeship builds better workforce

People and CommunityScience and Technology

Construction apprenticeship builds better workforce

The College of Engineering is a partner in a new workforce development and training program that combines on-the-job experience at construction sites with classroom instruction to help fast-track workers into managerial positions, helping to fill a critical gap in the industry.
Participants in a workforce and apprenticeship program receive instruction as part of the course. Photos: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

By Robert C. Jones Jr.[email protected]11-22-2023

Andiana Pierre lived nearly 100 miles north of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince when it was rocked by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake 13 years ago. But even from that distance, she could still feel the tremors from the powerful temblor.

When she traveled from her hometown of Cap-Haïtien to the capital months later, she wept at the sight of the quake's devastation and aftermath: collapsed buildings, buckled roads, and displaced residents-many of them children-living in tents.

"I knew then that I wanted to help make Haiti a safer place to live," recalled Pierre, who was only 10 years old when the earthquake struck her homeland.

Today, she has started on a journey to do just that.

Pierre, who immigrated to Miami in 2011, is a student in a University of Miami College of Engineering workforce development and apprenticeship program aimed at teaching construction management and building automation skills to underrepresented segments of the population, even if they have no prior experience in the industry.

The program began in earnest this fall semester with a cohort of 10 people from the South Florida community enrolled in its project manager segment. A Gulf War veteran, a hydraulics engineer who moved to Miami from Cuba a year ago, a marketing specialist, and a former Uber driver and gym manager are among the students in the first cohort.

Students wear two hats, gaining valuable on-the-job training while working at construction sites throughout Miami-Dade County during the day. Then they attend classes two days out of the week at the College of Engineering.

Miami-based Urban Related Construction partners in the program, providing students with daytime construction jobs, while the University of Miami's Division of Continuing and International Education coordinates classroom coursework and assignments. Miami Dade College sponsors the initiative, which is also supported by the Florida Department of Educaton's Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program.

"We want to guide these students on their path to success," said Christian Steputat, a lecturer in the College of Engineering and School of Architecture, who teaches courses in the workforce development and apprenticeship program.

During the one-year program, students learn how to read architectural and engineering drawings; conduct and interpret construction surveys; create building layouts; learn construction management terminology; and apply the fundamentals of construction mathematics-including linear algebra, geometry, and trigonometry-tobuilding projects. They also conduct construction cost estimates, learn about Florida and international building codes, and review Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and certification protocols, according to Steputat.

The program fills a critical need, said Tom Koulouris, a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, who also teaches courses in the program. "For a long time-and this was especially acute during the height of the pandemic-the design and construction industry's been hit by an extreme labor shortage, especially at any level of management," he explained. "If you knew 10 contractors, they were all looking for 20 project managers. That's how bad it is. There's more work going on than contractors can effectively manage with the staff they have."

Earlier this year, the national construction industry trade association Associated Builders and Contractors released a study that showed the construction industry would need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor. In 2024, the study revealed, the industry will need to bring in more than 342,000 new workers on top of normal hiring to meet industry demand.

"Especially for young people just starting out, construction is not sexy work," said Koulouris, who has managed and overseen health care construction projects across Florida. "It's hard work. You're out in the sun a lot, and it can be dusty. You don't wear a suit. If you're in management, eventually you do."

The project manager segment of the workforce development and apprenticeship program is geared toward fast-tracking students into managerial positions in the construction industry.

Pierre became enamored with construction when she was just a little girl growing up in Cap-Haïtien making miniature houses out of mud, sticks, and other raw materials. "Basically, anything my brothers and I could find," she recalled. When she completes the program, she hopes to visit Haiti to help beef up construction practices. "When the earthquake struck in 2010, there was no building code in Haiti," she said. "There's one now, but it's not strictly enforced."

Another student in the program, Enrique Ruiz, who served as an aeromedical evacuation technician with the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing during Desert Storm, hopes to "get reestablished in the construction industry" after his construction remodeling business went under during the 2008 economic collapse.

The program "has given me the confidence to enter an industry I knew nothing about only a short time ago," said Pierina Furno, who lost her job with a plumbing company at the beginning of 2023.

The building automation component of the program begins early next year and will expose a new group of students to the advanced technology and automation that now goes into construction projects.

"We expect that component to be immensely popular," said Esber Andiroglu, associate professor of practice in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, and director of the Master of Construction Management program, who was instrumental in organizing the workforce development and apprenticeship program. "It's all about smart fixtures and systems to monitor and control everything from lighting and alarms to security cameras and cooling and heating systems-not having to manually control such systems but using computerized automation to do so."