By Allyson McDuffie

The need for more skilled labor has been evident for many years now, long before the pandemic caused workers to leave the industrial sector – from construction and agriculture to transportation and geospatial. At the same time, baby boomers, which make up a large portion of the workforce, are naturally retiring, leaving a shortage of 430,000 construction workers, according to a current tally by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As baby boomers retire, there lies an opportunity to attract a different type of worker – one who can easily comprehend and advance the increasingly technical nature of today’s industrial work. This often involves connecting hardware with software and optimizing the data that results to enhance the productivity of today’s job sites.

However, while some candidates are not yet aware of the opportunities that exist, others with the skills may lack the knowledge of the construction industry required to hit the ground running on day one. Luckily, academia and various industry players are seeking to change that by offering innovative programs that expose students to the technical roles available and the specialized skills needed to succeed on the job today.

Learning Ahead of the Job

Academia is supposed to prepare students for their future career choice; however, many graduates often don’t gain a thorough understanding of the types of jobs that lay ahead. That’s not the case at Vancouver Community College in Vancouver, Canada, which offers one of only a few, steel detailing programs worldwide. In just 10 months, students are taught how to use the industry’s leading-edge technology, which includes Tekla Structures, a structural building information modeling (BIM) software for creating, combining, managing, and sharing 3D models. As a result of this and other training, student graduates are highly sought after by local employers, and the school has even upped its staffing to accommodate an increase in demand from students, some of whom log on remotely from as far away as Korea and Scotland.

Purdue University and Georgia Highlands College in Rome, Georgia are two other examples of educational institutions offering innovative degrees for in-demand career opportunities. Both recently began offering Building Information Modeling and Virtual Design and Construction programs. Graduates receive advanced training in BIM and virtual design and construction (VDC) technology, enabling them to digitally “construct” projects from the ground up, which is increasingly how projects are being designed to optimize efficiency.

Collaboration Facilitates Even Greater Learning

While academia has made many inroads on its own, collaborating with industry players has helped provide even more opportunities for technical exposure and hands-on learning. One such example is with Trimble, a global leader in construction technology, who regularly gives educators and students access to the latest hardware and software tools, and gifts entire Trimble Technology Labs to universities worldwide. While the labs are customized to fit each university program, they typically include a standard set of hardware and software solutions – from SketchUp Pro and Trimble RealWorks to GNSS and robotic total stations. Trimble also has a popular Visiting Professionals Program that connects industry professionals to college campuses to share insights and learnings, helping to expose students to the variety of jobs available, many of which are highly technical in nature.

Applanix, a Trimble mobile mapping and positioning company, is another good example of the positive collaboration between industry and academia. For the past several years, the company has provided Applanix POS and APX units to research labs at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) to assist with land and air-based autonomy research. The company is also one of four industrial partners providing the university with four new robotic labs designed to study autonomy in adverse weather conditions. The partnership, which is valued at $12 million, will help drive innovative research that benefits the industry, while simultaneously providing students with the hands-on technical knowledge they can use to advance their careers.

A Brighter Future

Whether it’s through access to new degrees or by getting to use the latest hardware and software systems, today’s students are becoming more aware of the technical roles available in the industrial sector and acquiring the skills needed to be hired into and succeed in those roles. While this won’t entirely solve the labor shortages happening across the industry, the efforts being undertaken by educational institutions and various businesses will likely help lessen that gap while simultaneously furthering students’ interest and understanding of technology, a benefit to students and the industry alike.


Allyson McDuffie is the director of education and outreach at Trimble, a global technology leader that provides integrated hardware and software solutions that “transforms the way the world works” by connecting the physical and digital worlds in industries such as agriculture, automotive, construction, geospatial and transportation.

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