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Construction is often thought of as a trade mastered on the job or through apprenticeships. However, many construction managers and developers opt for formal training as well -- especially those that take on major projects or specialize in an area like sustainable design. Here is a quick overview of construction degree programs and the careers they might lead to.

Construction Degrees: What to Expect

Construction majors typically learn how to manage and coordinate construction projects with a mind for cost, efficiency and regulatory compliance. According to The College Board, some degree programs emphasize the management aspect of construction work, focusing on scheduling, budgeting and leadership, while others prepare students to work in a specialized segment of the industry. Engineering and construction programs might also cover construction technology, preparing students to assist engineers and supervise technical teams in the field.

Courses vary from program to program, but generally touch on the following topics:

Construction
  • Construction estimating
  • Electrical and mechanical systems
  • Labor law
  • Blueprint reading
  • Sustainable design
  • Site surveying, planning and design
  • Computer-integrated construction
  • Technical report writing

The College Board reports that while many construction majors earn an associate or bachelor's, credentials run the gamut from certificates to master's degrees. To learn more about specific programs, students should contact prospective schools directly.

Jobs for Construction Majors

Not all construction professionals need or want formal degrees. However, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, earnings and employment opportunities tend to improve with education. The following are some examples of positions construction majors might pursue after graduation, plus a few industry trends from the BLS.

  • Construction managers - As the title suggests, construction managers oversee construction sites, coordinating, budgeting and supervising projects from development to completion. While managers with smaller firms may get by with a high school diploma and several years of professional experience, the BLS reports that larger employers increasingly prefer to hire candidates with construction degrees. The BLS projects demand for construction managers to grow by 16 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Prospects should be best for those with bachelor's degrees in construction or a related field, like civil engineering, as well as solid work experience.
  • Construction and building inspectors - Construction and building inspectors ensure projects and structures meet all local and national building codes, zoning regulations and contract specifications. Some construction and building inspectors have high school diplomas plus several years of on-the-job experience, but according to the BLS, many states and local jurisdictions require certification or licensure before entering the field. Employment of these professionals is expected to rise 12 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
  • Cost estimators - Cost estimators collect and analyze data so that they can estimate how much time, money and labor are required to complete a project. Though cost estimators can work in a number of industries, the BLS notes they usually specialize in a particular field, such as construction. Cost estimators typically must possess a bachelor's degree before entering the field, but according to the BLS, some employers will consider candidates with a great deal of construction experience or professional certificates. Demand for cost estimators is projected to grow 26 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.

The construction industry comprises a major portion of the U.S. economy, and the jobs above are just a small sampling. Many positions -- including construction equipment operators, laborers and carpenters -- do not necessarily require formal training, but even a certificate can help in a competitive job market. Those who hope to advance to managerial positions or establish their own companies should consider investing in a construction degree. Prospective construction majors can learn more about their options by contacting a school representative, visiting the BLS online, or reaching out to an organization like the American Council for Construction Education.

Sources:
"Major: Construction Management," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/business-construction-management
"Major: Construction Technology," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/engineering-technologies-construction-technology
"Cost Estimators," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/cost-estimators.htm
"Construction Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/construction-managers.htm
"Construction and Building Inspectors," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/construction-and-building-inspectors.htm
American Council for Construction Education, http://www.acce-hq.org/

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