Densification, affordability to reshape homebuilding industry: SAIT

Q&A with SAIT Polytechnic School of Construction dean Scott MacPherson

The homebuilding industry is undergoing unprecedented change – from new technologies to a new-look workforce. Calgary, in particular, has witnessed, and even ushered, much of this change first-hand, thanks in part to SAIT Polytechnic’s School of Construction.

CREB®Now recent sat down with the school’s dean Scott MacPherson to talk about everything from densification to East Coast dinner parties.

CREBNow: Tell readers a bit behind the school and its genesis to date?

Macpherson: The School of Construction is one of the largest schools at SAIT, with approximately 200 faculty and support staff providing training to over 7,500 full-time and part-time students a year. Our commitment to industry is to build a career-ready workforce that meets their diverse needs. We are the only school at SAIT that offers trades training through to a four-year bachelor of science in Construction Project Management. We offer approximately 20 full-time programs that are continuously reviewed and updated by expert advisory committees, ensuring curriculum is always relevant.

CREBNow: Where backgrounds are your students coming from?

Macpherson: Entrance surveys tell us our construction technologies students are primarily coming from Calgary and are predominantly young men a few years out of high school. We find that students come to us after some experience working full or part-time and have a strong idea of what they want to do and the focus and drive to make that happen. Some students have prior experience in the construction industry and some have none. Students choose to attend SAIT knowing that they can finish their program and get a job. The School of Construction has a 96 per cent employment rate.

CREBNow: How is technology impacting a career in the construction trade?

Macpherson: If I can sum it up in one word, I would say “access.” On a construction site, tradespeople have greater access to the information they need via their smartphones improving the speed of decision making and increasing productivity. Technological advancements have also resulted in access to lighter and more
effective tools to get the work done more quickly and safely.

CREBNow: What does the future of residential housing construction look like from your perspective?

Macpherson: Our industry partners in the residential home building industry have indicated to us that the issues of densification (moving toward more multi-family construction than single family) and affordability (against rising labour and material costs) will impact the future of the sector. We will continue to maintain strong ties with industry and, in particular, with our founding builders (10 of the largest residential companies in Calgary who came together to support our state-of-the-art Trades and Technology Complex, which opened in 2012) to ensure we produce the skilled graduates they need.

CREBNow: What impact, if any, have you seen at your school in times of economic downturn?

Macpherson: The construction workforce is aging and Canada is already experiencing a shortage of skilled tradespeople – fewer people are entering construction than those who are retiring. Over the next 10 years, only about 167,000 new tradespeople are expected to enter the workforce versus the 235,000 who are expected to retire. With an eye to the future, the provincial government is supporting seats in both construction trades and technology programs at SAIT. In the 2015-2016 academic year, we have the highest intake of construction students ever — we will serve nearly 5,000 full-time students this year.

CREBNow: What role has and will the local homebuilding community have at your school?

Macpherson: We rely on industry to keep our programs relevant and to help us to prepare our students for the workforce. Our programs are regularly reviewed and updated by expert advisory committees, which requires strong partnerships with industry and relevant associations in our community. We also encourage our student clubs to liaise with industry – they do so in the form of industry nights (networking), guest lectures, internships, final year capstone projects and internships.

CREBNow:What is your favourite thing to do in Calgary on a day off?

Macpherson: I grew up near the water and so I like to spend as much time as I can downtown along the Bow River with my family.

CREBNow: What, if anything, do you think is Calgary’s best-kept secret?

Macpherson: SAIT campus! Thousands of people pass by our new Trades and Technology Complex daily along 16th Avenue, but until you spend some time on campus and peek into our labs you don’t realize all of the amazing things that are happening here every day. The School of Construction’s main offices are part of the complex, which, at 740,000 square feet, is the largest expansion in SAIT’s nearly 100-year history. The addition is five times the size of the new Telus Spark Science Centre and includes 29,917 square metres of concrete – enough to lay a sidewalk from Calgary to Lethbridge.

CREBNow: What’s your favourite room in your home and why?

Macpherson: Definitely the kitchen. I’m from the East Coast where kitchen parties are part of our history. Any time spent with friends and family is spent in the kitchen.

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