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MLSoC: Answering the call for construction talent

Construction graduates are the job market’s hottest thing. Just ask a Hokie.

Myers-Lawson School of Construction’s Fall Career Fair reflects explosive demand for the nation’s fastest-growing major and the world’s future construction needs.

Allie Jo Vogrig, a senior in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, speaks with Virginia Tech alumnus David Coleman of Donley’s Inc. at the fall career fair. Vogrig begins a position as a project engineer at Donley’s after she graduates. “I signed a full-time job offer on my first day of senior year,” she said. “More people should know about this amazing school.”

Written by Marya Barlow, CAUS communications director. Photos and video by Ray Meese, Virginia Tech mobile journalist.

It may be the construction industry’s worst-kept secret: There aren’t enough Virginia Tech Myers-Lawson School of Construction graduates to satisfy hiring demand.

Myers-Lawson students enjoy 100 percent employment, their pick of construction management jobs with top national and global construction firms, and average starting salaries of at least $66,000-a-year – before they leave Virginia Tech.

Their popularity was visible at the school’s fall Career Fair, as 117 firms and over 500 student job candidates crowded into the Inn at Virginia Tech. The event, held in fall and spring, has become an essential networking, internship, and career venue for students and employers alike.

Jennifer Willard, a first-year student at the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, speaks with recruiters from Scott Long Construction during the fall career fair at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

“Each student gets multiple offers and many get five to six offers,” said Dr. Brian Kleiner, director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction. “Rather than compete for jobs, our students have companies competing for them.”

From its humble beginnings in 1995, when employers met in a Burruss Hall office with five students seeking internships, the Construction Career Fair has grown into a premier talent scouting destination for companies – and a place where even first-year students build bridges to successful careers.

Over 900 participants attended this year’s fair. Rising demand meant some companies had to be turned away for booths. The fair, on both the first and second floors of the Inn, has simply run out of space.

“I signed a full-time job offer on my first day of senior year,” said Allie Jo Vogrig, a senior construction engineering and management major from Pittsburgh. “It all started here at the Myers-Lawson Career Fair. Honestly, I don’t think I would be standing here six weeks into my senior year with a full-time job already lined up if I was in a different major.”

A recent study released in U.S. News & World Report shows that construction-based majors are the nation’s hottest and fastest-growing. Enrollment in construction-related majors grew 26.4 percent over the past year at four-year institutions – the largest increase of any major, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

That trend is backed by federal job data and projections. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says construction industry jobs will have the fastest growth all occupations over the next decade, thanks to a booming population and the resulting need for new infrastructure. According to the BLS, the economy will add more than 7.2 million construction jobs by 2024.

Myers-Lawson student Richard Randolph speaks with Turner Construction Company representatives during the fall career fair at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

Ken Taylor, executive vice president of W.M. Jordan Company, graduated from Virginia Tech’s building construction program in 1979 and says his alma mater is a top source of hiring and leadership for the company.

“There is simply not enough young talent being produced to keep up with the growth,” he said. “This is an awesome display of talent coming out of Myers-Lawson School of Construction. We’re very fortunate to have this supply of great young men and women. Myers-Lawson is focused 100 percent on what the industry needs. They ask us what we need; they listen; and we all benefit.”

A joint venture of Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the College of Engineering, the school stands apart for instilling students with a distinctive set of practical, job-ready skills in construction, engineering, and business management, as well as communication, leadership, and team-building. The building construction degree program in the Myers-Lawson School is one of 73 nationally accredited baccalaureate degree programs by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE). The construction engineering and management degree program in is accredited by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

“This particular school is preparing them not only with construction techniques, but life skills and professional skills. We can’t get enough of them actually,” Taylor said.

As the school’s reputation grew, it couldn’t keep pace with demand for graduates. So, its biggest champions stepped in to enable expansion.

Last year, a group including school namesake John Lawson, the Hitt family, and other industry leaders contributed $25 million to support Virginia Tech’s global prominence in Intelligent Infrastructure for Human Centered Communities, a Destination Area leveraging the university’s expertise in construction, engineering, architecture, and technology.

This year, a $15 million donation from A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation – the biggest scholarship gift in university history – was endowed to assist more construction and engineering students from underserved backgrounds.

Ashwini Shetty of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction speaks with Scott Clay of Clark Construction during the fall career fair at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

Over the next several years, the school has plans to more than double in size again. Kleiner says the building construction program is targeted to grow from 375 to 750 students; construction and engineering management will triple from 120 to 375. To begin resourcing the expected growth, two academic advisors, two tenure-track faculty, and a professor of practice were hired this fall.

“We’re very fortunate that our students who excel in the industry become donors and give back,” Kleiner said. “Our school was founded on the generosity of Hokies and our alumni and friends continue that tradition. The return on investment is the students they get back as talent for their companies.”

Myers-Lawson – already one of the nation’s most diverse construction schools – is also seeking to transform the industry by recruiting a diverse faculty and student body. Women compose 50 percent of faculty and over 20 percent of students – far above the 6 percent national industry average of construction managers. Students of color compose 14 percent, versus 3 percent industrywide.

The school is also working to overcome misconceptions and stereotypes about construction as a non-professional track. Their greatest advocates are the students now entering the workplace.

“There’s really no reason to look elsewhere,” said Vogrig, who will start her job as a project engineer at Donley’s Construction’s Richmond office after she graduates in May. “More people should know about this amazing school. If you ever wanted to build a building – if you ever played with Legos, Lincoln Logs, or puzzles, this is for you. Every day you get to build something and see it come to fruition; not just sit behind a desk. I can’t express my love for it enough.”