Monday, October 28, 2013

Construction Professions - Employability Skills – A Key Element of Undergraduate Education

I have heard many working in the construction professions comment that they do not think that Universities provide the depth of knowledge and skills necessary to prepare graduates for the rigours of the professional world. But is this a fair assessment?

During my many years in professional practice, I have worked with numerous graduate construction professionals, fresh from University and ready to enter the professional world, in many cases armed with little more than the knowledge they had gained from University.  When employing graduates in practice we were looking for potential in terms of attitude, drive, entusiasm etc and we would not have unrealistic expectations in terms of technical knowledge at this point (although this would be assessed through the recruitment process). I have heard many working in the construction professions comment that they do not think that Universities provide the depth of knowledge and skills necessary to prepare graduates for the rigours of the professional world. But is this a fair assessment? At University we try our very best to ensure that the content of our courses is continually updated and importantly relevant to the various built environment professions. Infact 75% to 80% of the content of built enviroment courses is determined by what our accrediting bodies require and expect.  We also try wherever possible to allow students to apply this knowledge in practically based, industry relevant assessments wherever possible.  In truth, and I am sure most would agree, the real learning/experience of each particular profession actually starts in the workplace.  Although we try our utmost to arm our students with relevant up to date knowledge and as many practical skills as possible there will always be limitations to what can be achieved in an academic environment. 

Most people will be aware of the significant changes to University funding over the last few years and in particular the significant increase in the amount a student is required to pay if they want to come to University.  In reality the cost of most undergraduate courses has not changed, what has changed is that the government no longer subsidise a large percentage of the fee (for the student) which they used too.  The outcome is that students are now faced with tuition fees of between £8,000 and £9,000 per year (fees vary between universities), resulting in an investment of between £24,000 and £27,000 for a three year course without even thinking about living costs and other expenses. Although a low interest loan can be sought to cover tuition fees, in addition to thier degree, most graduating students will leave University with a large debt.  All of this has resulted in students thinking very carefully about the type of courses they will undertake or whether they will go to university at all.  Nowadays, students should expect and demand a high level of service, high quality teaching, a modern learning environment and an overall positive experience throughout their time at University, which will ultimately provide them with good career prospects and good earning potential.  This is something our University has worked very hard to achieve. In fact Coventry University have recently leapt up 10 places in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2014; putting us 45th in the overall rankings. This is the highest listing for a modern university in the history of these guides; sealing our title as the UK’s top modern university. We still however have room for improvement and we will work hard to make further positive enhancement/improvement to the University, our courses and to the student experience.

As an Admissions Tutor and Senior Lecturer, teaching on RICS, CIAT, CIOB and CIBSE accredited courses I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of enquiries and questions that applicant’s and in particular thier parents ask, especially at open days.  Many of these questions, revolve around career opportunites available once they graduate, and not just focussing on questions relating to the course itself.  This has highlighted a very interesting and important point, as it appears that applicant’s are now thinking much more about the likely return on their (increased) investment and how their academic studies will translate into employability. 

In order to ensure the continued supply of construction professionals it is extremely important that undergradate teaching is underpinned with employability skills, to help ensure that graduates are as prepared as much as possible for the rigors of the professional world.  At Coventry University we adopt our own ‘activity led learning’ method of teaching and delivery, where our students are given practical, industry relevant activities, as often as possible, by providing them with projects that reflect as closely as possible situations that they will undertake in professional practice once they graduate. We try to move away from a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ style of teaching and learning wherever we can.  In adopting this style of delivery we are supported by a number of employers within the West Midlands area, who are happy to provide our students with projects and to give them the opportunity to present their findings and recieve feedback from those working in the industry.  One such employer is Severn Trent.  For the last three years they have provided our second year building surveyors with access to one of their buildings.  The assessment brief requires a professionally presented building survey report, with an analysis and explanation of defects and an option appraisal of what the client could do with the building.  Students then present thier findings to members of Severn Trent’s Property and Asset Managment Team, at their headquarters in Coventry, where they were challenged and questioned on their proposals. This is just one example of how we try to engage our students with industry partners in order to improve their employability skills.

A combined approach of undergraduate teaching and professional experience is fundamental to ensuring a continued stream of high quality graduates into the built environemnt professions. Our students are very popular with employers, particuarly in the Midlands area.  We encourage our students to secure a year out placement opportunity during their studies and we have some excellent students, some who will soon be starting the process of applying for positions for 2013.   If you are employer, who is thinking about placement or graduate positions now or in the future, please contact me at Coventry University. 

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1 comment:

  1. Where is it that you can do surveying in Anchorage ak? I have been looking for awhile now and I cannot find what I am looking for. Can someone please point me in the right direction and tell me where to start? If you can that would be really helpful.