Construction plays a fundamental role in the economic well-being of Wyoming, but the sector’s workforce training was limited, even before the pandemic, forcing Wyoming companies to recruit workers from adjacent states at a high cost. In many cases, workers return to their native states after a project is completed.
In response to this need for training, the civil and architectural engineering department at the University of Wyoming has developed a four-year construction management degree and workforce training programs for individuals, along with a certificate training program that offers five modules for companies and their workers.
Lectures and class discussions as well as group projects are carried out on Zoom and other online platforms as if meeting in person. This teaching modality allows industry practitioners from across the state to participate in training without leaving their offices or jobsites.
Using Zoom, industry practitioners can actually go into a “break room” where small group interactions take place. This is convenient for learners trying to complete their training all at once or simply rewatching recorded training. In addition, the Zoom platform allows learners to engage in real-time interviews with practitioners on site, such as a superintendent. The interviews are conducted on jobsites where the instructor of record co-teaches with a practitioner on course-related content such as jobsite safety, equipment storage, quality control and scheduling. Students can participate in the dialogue and visualize different job components in real time. The practitioner utilizes an iPad at the site to explain the project schedule and project layout to students.
One way the certificate program supports students is to respond to their feedback from online surveys. Incorporating students’ concerns and suggestions into the course planning and classwork for an online session makes for continuous quality improvement. For example, in the most recent survey, 44% of the students approved of the hybrid course (online work plus face-to-face interaction), while 40% wanted online work only. Therefore, instructors, trainers and professors adjusted their methodology accordingly. Module-based training this spring requires all learners to engage in a four-hour Zoom session with the instructor and be given the opportunity to work in groups over the course of a week to complete homework and obtain a certificate of completion.
With the pandemic, 80% of students preferred to balance their time between work and training. Again, trainers, instructors and professors adjusted the amount of time for each section or module to meet students’ needs, including 60% who said they strongly agreed that break-out sessions were helpful in learning the material.
Studies have demonstrated that if workers possess the skills they need to perform their jobs, they are more confident about conducting their tasks, more committed to the company and less likely to seek a job elsewhere. But open access to a construction training program with no cost to companies and their workers is unique. Unlike other industries, the construction sector in Wyoming has not been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, training for workers could still be affected by it. That’s why the University of Wyoming’s civil and architectural engineering department has found innovative ways to keep Wyoming building.