Jobs and careers that involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively called STEM – are a major focus in the academic community.
With increasingly complex challenges and growing demands in many economic sectors, STEM helps to give today’s students the foundational skills needed to work in key industries. In a mission to prepare the leaders of tomorrow for the rapidly changing future, STEM has become a major priority in the education system. Funding for STEM education has skyrocketed, with the U.S. government dedicating billions of dollars across numerous departments and programs that support STEM.
When most people think of industries that use STEM disciplines, they think of ones like healthcare and computer science. But there’s one major industry that is often overlooked when comes to its connection with STEM: Construction.
Many people don’t correlate construction with STEM because the majority of the jobs and career paths in the skilled trades do not require a four-year degree. But when you break construction down to its different functions and elements, it truly becomes science, tech, engineering and math in action.
Here are some examples of how construction craft professionals use STEM every day in their career.
Many different types of physical sciences are seen and applied throughout the entire construction industry.
One of the most prominent of these is physics. Concepts like gravity, weight and motion are all important considerations for things ranging from safely rigging a load for a crane to how much structural support is needed for buildings.
Materials science is another important scientific field that plays a major role in construction. It’s important to understand different properties of materials such as density, strength, durability, flammability, conductivity, water resistance and reusability so that the most appropriate materials are used for a given project.
Earth sciences are also a factor in construction. Geography and related fields are important in deciding where and how to build new projects. Climatology impacts how buildings are designed to meet local weather patterns and potential threats from natural disasters such as flooding or hurricane-force winds. The industry is increasingly studying the environmental impacts of construction and how to build more sustainably.
More niche sciences can be seen within specialized crafts. For example:
Although construction is very much still an old-school industry, many new-age technologies are becoming an increasingly large player in the building process.
One of the most important technological advancements in construction has been computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM). While construction was once limited to paper blueprints and plans, 3D modeling has made the planning, designing and building stages of a project much easier, quicker and more integrated. Architects and engineers are able to work collaboratively with project managers and superintendents in real time, working to give updates and solve problems in a digital, three-dimensional format.
Another source of technology comes in the use of new equipment like drones. Drones can be used to survey a site remotely, spot potential hazards and collect data about a project.
Tech is also becoming a bigger part of construction training. Simulators, augmented reality headsets and other devices are being used to help trainees get their feet wet in their craft before stepping into the real thing. This helps save time and money. It also provides a safe and low-stress learning environment for inexperienced students and apprentices.
Of course, not every piece of technology in construction is super new and advanced, but still invaluable. Heavy equipment like tower cranes, mobile cranes, bulldozers and excavators all require highly trained professionals to operate safely and effectively. Power tools, instruments and machinery also require a skilled hand that can adapt to ongoing advancements in those areas.
At its core, engineering is problem-solving. It’s sort of the crossroads of all the other elements of STEM: understanding the science, and then using technology and math to find solutions.
When it comes to construction, engineering is about finding out how to build a structure and keep it standing and operational. That means understanding the laws of nature as well as the laws of man, considering numerous potential external factors, knowing how different interconnected systems work together, and then executing a plan to make everything work in harmony.
At the top of any construction project will be civil engineers, who engineer at a macro-scale and create the overall designs, layouts and instructions for a construction project. These can include both the process for the building itself as well as other affected aspects, such as roadways and utilities.
But engineering happens at a micro-scale as well. Every day, craft professionals must find the right course of action to complete their tasks, from how to properly align angled beams of lumber to how to repair a blown electrical circuit. Training, skills and experience are needed for this complex daily problem solving.
Math and calculations are needed everywhere in construction.
One of the most prominent places math is needed is in measuring and shaping materials. The old saying “measure twice, cut once” is math in action! Geometry is applied to cut the material to the right shape, using tools such as tape measures, carpenter’s squares and even lasers to find the right distance and angle. Material shaped incorrectly can cause alignment problems and other issues that affect a project, so getting it right is critical.
Other material calculations are needed to know how much material is needed. Ordering too few supplies can lead to costly delays for a project. But ordering too much can be an unprofitable expense.
Math is also very important in terms of weight and load. For example, an incorrectly rigged and overweight load for a crane can cause an accident, while creating a building frame without adequate support structures can cause a collapse.
In many ways, math works hand-in-hand with the science component of STEM. Understanding physics and other sciences informs the math and calculations that are needed for various tasks.
When people traditionally think of STEM career options, they think of doctors, scientists and developers.
But while the trades often deal with the perception that it’s a low-skill, low-education path, the truth is that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are present in and around construction in many ways. And these aren’t just the theoretical parts of STEM – it’s STEM actually being applied to real-life purposes.
To learn more about professions in the construction industry, check out the information and resources on our Construction Careers page.