For decades, fund-raisers have offered book money, scholarships and grants to students seeking to launch careers in construction and engineering. Meanwhile, the industry says it continues to struggle to attract fresh talent into most every aspect of the business.
As donations have grown in recent years, fund-raisers are looking to boost contributions to include other recruiting methods, such as helping teachers gain more field experience and bringing longtime practitioners into the classroom—the idea being that a stronger, more informed teacher can greatly multiply the learning potential.
“The construction industry has become more professional and more sophisticated over the years,” explains Bob Bowen, chairman of Indianapolis-based infrastructure contractor Bowen Engineering Corp. “Today’s industry leaders are college graduates, many out of the schools of engineering. That wasn’t true 60 years ago.”
Since stepping down as CEO of his company in 2009, Bowen has driven twice a week during the fall semester to Purdue University’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus to teach a senior-level class in leadership and advanced project management. To help to turn the gig into a full-time job for practitioners such as himself, Bowen donated $100,000 in seed money to The Beavers Charitable Trust.
Funding teaching positions requires significant cash contributions but helps to attract experts into the classroom, explains Dave Woods, executive director of the Beavers’ trust. “A chair within the academic world carries a certain prestige—and a price tag,” he explains.
Together, Bowen teamed up with Cliff Schexnayder, author of the 2015 book “Builders of the Hoosac Tunnel”; Jeff Russell, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Anne Bigane, president of Chicago-based Bigane Paving Co. The Purdue graduates contributed their own savings and raised $1.2 million to fund the position. Last fall, Purdue hired Robert M. Patty, an expert in heavy construction and lean engineering, under a three-year appointment.
“He has some excellent experience,” says Nic Chittick, a 21-year-old student who is graduating from Purdue this spring with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering and management. “One thing I liked is that he talked about a project he worked on abroad. I’m not starting there, but I might consider it in my career.” Patty says a goal is to teach students about lean construction.
Besides Purdue, the Beavers’ trust—which has an endowment approaching $20 million, thanks to a generous contribution in 2014 from the Ball family—is funding professorships at Texas A&M University, University of Washington, Arizona State University, Oregon State University, Long Beach State University, University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University and California State University, Chico. ENR plans to discuss these positions, which Woods says “encompass all the various flavors” of the trust’s contributions, in more detail in its upcoming May 9 issue.
The Beavers’ trust still sees education scholarships as a primary giving task. In January, it received a second installment from Caterpillar Inc. for a four-year challenge to raise money for engineering education. For every $2 the Beavers raise through 2017, the equipment firm will make a $1 matching contribution. It presented a check for $250,000 at the group’s annual dinner, held on Jan. 22 in Los Angeles. There, the Beavers’ trust also announced a new website, called HeavyConstructionCareers.com, which lists construction jobs.
“Heavy construction is not for everybody,” Woods says. “It’s kind of like the Marines: We are just looking for a few good people.” In order to comply with federal tax requirements, the trust will release 5% of its endowment, or roughly $1 million. The nonprofit has endowed scholarships with 43 schools across the country.
The Moles also plans to boost its funding, which now exceeds $5 million in endowments. “For the current academic year—fall 2015 to spring 2016—approximately $250,000 is being awarded in scholarship grants to students studying civil engineering at the colleges and universities which participate in our education committee program,” says Gerry Carty, executive director emeritus.
This year, the Associated General Contractors of America’s foundation will award 142 scholarships, but it also is expanding fund-raising to include workforce development dollars, which will help rising workers join the industry. Designed for students in craft work, technical programs, certificate programs and community colleges, applications into the AGC program, which last year released 19 scholarships, re-opened on April 1 and will close on June 1. Applications are available online at www.AGCFoundation.org.
“The industry really needs more people who are interested in craft and technical work,” says Melinda Patrician, director of the AGC Education and Research Foundation.
AGC also is commissioning industry case studies. “We are looking at everything from project cost mitigation to using mobile devices in the field,” Patrician says. AGC has published one study and has four others in the works. “We are putting out an RFP later this spring for three more,” Patrician says. Case studies can be downloaded for free from the foundation’s website.
Another aspect of AGC Foundation’s $9-million endowment is a program to offer summer internships to faculty members. Foundation, school and contractor each pay 30%. So far, 15 internships have been funded since 2011; combined with the classroom case studies, these internships create more opportunity for teachers to expose students to real-world issues.
“Our feeling is that, by funding these two programs, we have an impact on a much greater number of students than we do even by awarding scholarships,” Patrician says, adding that scholarships still will be “a very major thing for us.”
Another resource is The Society of American Military Engineers, whose New York City chapter enjoys an endowment of more than $3 million. Although it is just one of many local SAME chapters, its scholarships range from Alaska to Maine. Basic scholarships cost $15,000 to start and are given in perpetuity.
"You pay once, and the organization will give it forever," says Judy Cooper, a Westchester County-based communications consultant and SAME volunteer. "We have scholarships that we have given to the same school for over 65 years." The organization also is active in high school job fares to help boost recruiting, she adds.
Speaking of scholarships, Chittick used a variety of them to cobble together a free ride at Purdue and was offered internships at Bowen each summer. He accepted a job there last August as a project engineer; he will begin this summer, after graduation.
“The internships have been huge,” he says. “I’ve never really had to interview.”