UNLV’s Shields (left) and contractor Korte revived construction program.
Tony Illia / ENR
UNLV’s Shields (left) and contractor Korte revived construction program.

The national credit crunch may be quenching the flame under Las Vegas’ superheated construction market, but industry firms still short of management talent see good news in the resurgence of one key source that almost went bust.

Even with some big Vegas projects delayed or canceled in recent months, construction remains Nevada’s second-largest employer. But a key local talent pipeline, the construction management program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, dried up in recent years due to a lack of identity, leadership and funding. Now, it is turning itself around, fueled by a public-private infusion of cash and guidance.

New campus building will boost space for CM and engineering programs.
Tony Illia / ENR
New campus building will boost space for CM and engineering programs.

An advisory coalition of 30 local industry firms, formed in 2005 to help reverse the program’s downward spiral, has led to an unlikely but fruitful collaboration of academia and industry that has helped repair the program and restart the flow of construction talent. “With the demand we are experiencing for management personnel, it is important that we focus on available resources within the valley,” says Greg Korte, president of the advisory group and of the local division of St. Louis contractor The Korte Co.

This summer, the program received, for the first time, a six-year accreditation from the American Council for Construction Education, the key accrediting body for two-year and four-year programs construction programs. Previously warned to “clean up its act” or lose accreditation altogether, the program listened. “We were definitely in trouble,” says David Shields, construction-management-program director. “The industry advisory board brought support to the program, which it had lacked. They no longer think of us as a last resort for recruiting.”

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  • UNLV’s CM program originated in 1988 as a construction-administration option in the architecture department, where it languished in anonymity. It then moved into the university’s civil and environmental engineering department but was not treated much better there. Shields’ hiring in 2003 jump started the turnaround. “They were looking for a program director and I accepted,” he says. “But I had no idea how bad the situation was. Nobody knew how bad it was because nobody was paying attention.” State budget woes had reduced the program, Nevada’s only accredited one in construction, to three full-time faculty.

    The new director’s arrival coincided with Eric Sandgren being named dean of the school’s Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. They worked to trim university red tape that had hobbled the CM program and to enlist support. Construction management became a standalone program in 2006, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Student enrollment rose, as did its image and coffers.

    A $113-million science, engineering, and technology building opening in January, will offer space for CM classes and research. And, despite a looming 14% UNLV budget cut for 2009-10, the industry raised $500,000 to fund new staff positions and $25,000 for scholarships. “This is an important program to the state economy and to the state,” says state Sen. Warren Hardy (R), who is also president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.