Abstract: Workforce shortages, lack of diversity, and challenging student transitions from college into the construction profession remain a huge concern. There is the need for construction educators to target, attract, and prepare minority students who persist into construction professional roles and contribute to industry advancements. Identity theories emphasize that students’ lived experiences shape their professional identity development processes and career decisions; and, in the long-term, influence students’ persistence and career success. Construction students with strong professional identities are likely to persist and have smoother transitions into construction professions (CPs). However, little is known about the lived experiences of construction students, particularly students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); and, how these experiences influence their construction professional identity development (CPID). Consequently, the purpose of this research was to gain insights into HBCU students’ lived experiences and how their CPID evolved across four educational stages. Using a self-reporting survey instrument in a mixed methods approach, 45 HBCU construction students described experiences that influenced their CPID and rated their own CPID using a five-point Likert scale. Data analysis involved weighted means and descriptive analysis of frequently occurring words and emerging thematic categories. T-tests were used to assess the statistical significance of differences existing between different categories of students.
Results showed that across the four educational stages, seven thematic categories (technology, engineering, science, fine/performing arts, sports, arts, and non-degree) of evolving career interests emerged from the data analysis. Majority of CP career decisions occurred at the middle-school age, making it a critical time to introduce age-appropriate construction learning opportunities. The six thematic categories that emerged from students’ reasons for switching career interests were psychological, experiential, academic, physical, social, and economic; and these reasons corresponded with the educational stages. While pre-college reasons for switching career interests were mostly associated with new knowledge and experiences, college reasons were associated with barriers that hindered students’ progression. HBCU construction students had positive perceptions of their own CPID with a high sense of belonging, self-efficacy, and self-recognition. CPID was neither gender nor classification dependent. However, it was most influenced by personal, academic, and industrial experiences. Furthermore, students indicated a strong preference for hands on activities, industry connections, and instructor preparation because these enhanced their CPID.
Empirical findings provide insights into CPID to inform educational practices and policies for the early targeting, attraction, preparation, and persistence of construction students, particularly at HBCUs. In the long term, effective practices and policies could increase the quantity and quality of CPs towards a more competent and diverse workforce for the development of 21st century built environments.
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