Construction is facing a drastic shortage of qualified workers in all aspects of the industry. But one of the most desperate needs in all of construction is for safety professionals.
In order to help address this issue, HCSS is partnering with the Associated General Contractors of America Education and Research Foundation (AGCERF), industry partners, and Keene State College to help develop a Construction Safety Minor and Bachelor of Science degree within the New Hampshire college’s Safety and Occupational Health Applied Sciences program.
Keene State announced it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding this month with the AGCERF to pursue $2.5 million in funding over five years to develop the program and address the growing demand for emerging safety professionals in construction.
“This is the first construction safety management degree program in the country,” HCSS Senior Safety Consultant Jim Goss said. “We’re looking at getting solid professionals in our business. We want to help alleviate that shortage and give the people in the industry the formal education they need to succeed.”
Keene State’s Safety and Occupational Health Applied Sciences program is the second-most declared major at the school, with 300 students and 100 graduates each year.
Goss said the goal of the new major and minor is to graduate 25 students within five years and create 50 internship opportunities after the second year. The program also hopes to establish a construction safety lecture series, research and capstone opportunities for staff and students, and a conduit for construction safety subject experts. Graduates would be placed with AGC companies when possible, and the program would serve as an example of partnership and collaboration within the industry.
“We have people graduating with safety degrees but no formal education in construction safety,” Goss said. “We end up dealing with a situation where we have a person that needs to learn the construction business before they become useful. We’re trying to give them that education that will be very useful in everything that they do.”
According to a press release, the foundational program will emphasize research-based principles, best practices, and an understanding and application of regulations and related management systems. It will also develop core Liberal Arts competencies that are strongly supported by industry employers and professional associations, such as: critical thinking, creative inquiry, intercultural competence, civic engagement, lifelong learning, and a commitment to wellbeing.
The AGCERF and Keene State will ask for partnerships from other construction companies as well.
“When the economy took a downturn, a lot of safety people left construction and went into other industries,” Goss said. “The construction industry is graying out. We have the older group that is now retiring and moving on. We just didn’t have people behind them moving up.”
The shortage is affecting companies of all sizes, especially as the bar for safety continues to be raised. Additional safety regulations and fines imposed by OSHA, as well as a push from project owners to increase safety measures, means companies are scrambling to fill positions.
“We’re starting to see companies requiring site safety people,” Goss said. “Companies that, 20 years ago, had one safety person, they may now have a safety department that has six or seven people. There are certain parts of the country where there are 100 to 150 open safety positions that they can’t fill.”
Goss said it’s hard to entice young people to get into the construction field because of the chaotic nature of the business. And the vast majority of recent graduates of other safety degree programs enter the workforce with little to no base knowledge of any industry, including construction.
“They have no base knowledge, and it takes them six to eight months before they really become useful,” Goss said. “That hurts the industry. We need people to hit the ground running.”
Keene State’s new major program aims to address that problem.
Read about how to keep workers safe while still making money here.
“We’ve encouraged in this program to have a strong internship segment,” Goss said. “We want kids to have three internships so they have nine months of experience. And if they work winter breaks, they could end up with a year’s worth of experience before they really walk in. We want them to have certifications. They’ll actually go in with these skill sets and be able to take them into the industry.”
Keene State, a public liberal arts college, has an above-average graduation rate, a top-tier ranking of Regional Universities in the North by US News and World Report, and the Carnegie Foundation classification for Community Engagement.
The AGCERF, founded in 1968, supports the future of the industry through a robust scholarship program and innovative projects and is the largest representative group of construction-related firms in the U.S.
Throughout 2016, required course and curricular program offerings will be developed with appropriate academic review and approval. Components of the program will begin rollout in Spring 2016, through summer courses, internship opportunities, and a Construction Safety Lecture Series. Pending the academic approval process, the college will enroll at least 70 new students into the program over the five-year period.
“I think it shows our commitment to construction safety and what we want to do for the industry,” Goss said. “It’s important to support the industry wherever we can, but it’s also important to support the safety aspects that we’re looking for. We hear from our clients about the shortage, so we want to do something to help.”