ABC construction management competition bridges school and career

Applying the many aspects of construction management learned in a college or university program can be like preparing a seven-course meal. Students must make seamless everything from cost estimation to safety planning – all while accounting for project changes just hours from the bid deadline.

It’s this “real-world” experience that the Associated Builders and Contractors organization hopes to provide in its fifth annual student chapter construction management competition, to be held Feb. 19 during the ABC national convention in Orlando, Fla. A record number of 26 teams from across the nation are expected to vie for the event’s $8,500 prize.

“The prize money is often serendipitous,” said Christine Hess, director of careers in construction for ABC. “It’s really just getting the experience of being there and the competition itself that students value.”

Hess said the competition is intended to serve as a “bridge between school and career,” providing students with the opportunity to gain real-world experience in the construction industry. “It’s intense and challenging, but fun,” she said.

Teams of three to four students will compete for the cash prize and awards in three categories: project management/scheduling, estimating and safety.

All registered teams receive a pre-competition assignment and are told to come to the competition prepared for “bid day,” which occurs on the first day of the event. Out of the 26 teams, only five finalists will be selected for the following day’s competition. A panel of judges acting as owners will then select the overall winner.

This year’s competition challenge is an elementary school addition. Past projects have included converting a high-rise hotel to condominiums and making additions to a two-story office building.

Joe Glaze, assistant pre-construction manager for The Neenan Company and recent alumnus of Colorado State University’s department of construction management, was a team member in last year’s competition. His CSU team won back-to-back overall titles in 2003 and 2004, in addition to capturing first-place spots in the estimation and project management categories for those respective years.

Glaze said the deadline pressure – usually only six hours – was the most difficult part of the competition. The pressure is enhanced by project changes introduced throughout the allotted time period.

“It’s fairly realistic,” Glaze said. “A lot of the time [in actual jobs] you go down one path, and you’re thrown a change.”

To make matters worse, there are the distractions of other teams working only a few feet away, he said.

To reduce deadline pressure, teams are encouraged to practice skills they will need in the competition and prepare plans in advance.

Glaze, who had 15 years of work experience prior to attending CSU and the ABC competition, said the event is a tremendous opportunity for students. “This definitely would help younger guys and girls getting in to the industry,” he said.

Mike Nobe, CSU assistant professor of construction management and the ABC student chapter faculty advisor, agrees with Glaze’s assessment of the competition.

“It’s probably the best experience we can give our students,” he said. “It lets them step up to the plate and go to the next level with their skills.”

Students’ success in the competition and others like it has even impacted the university’s construction management curriculum. Nobe said a new senior-level course modeled on the competition is being planned because of the effective way in which it applies skills learned in other classes.

Exotic locations such as Hawaii and Orlando probably don’t hurt the competition’s attendance. But getting there can be an expensive proposition for teams thousands of miles away.

Tom Noland, director of education and safety at the Rocky Mountain chapter of ABC, helps the CSU chapter raise travel funding by soliciting member companies. Last year, the team collected approximately $5,000 with the help of the state chapter and volunteer Ron White, a former employee of Shaw Construction.

Noland said students also make important contacts with industry professionals and other students during the competition.

“It [the chapter] is doing great things for students that get involved,” Noland said. “Participation is just as valuable as the competition itself.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.