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North Harris College metal building program a synergy of educators, software developers and construction industry partners

HOUSTON (Mar. 23, 07) – Five years ago, at the request of Houston’s metal building and component manufacturers, North Harris College developed a pre-engineered metal building drafting and design specialization, associate of applied science degree program. By responding to this specific industry demand, NHC opened the doors of employment and educational opportunity into a nationwide metal construction industry that produces two billion dollars a year in commerce.

QUESTware Corp, a major developer of technical software for the metal building industry, recently hosted its national annual user group meeting at North Harris College, Houston, Texas. Industry representatives from Texas and other states included Whirlwind Building Systems, Houston, Texas; MBCI (NCI), Houston, Texas; Schulte Building Systems, Hockley, Texas; Straight Line Building Systems, Brookshire, Texas; Regal Metco, Junction, Texas; Avid Building Systems, Austin, Texas; Universal Structures, Montgomery, Texas; Vulcan Steel Structures, Adel, GA; EagleSpan Steel Structures, Loveland, CO; BigBee Steel Buildings, Muscle Shoals, AL; and Steel Built Corp, Ambridge, PA. Participants attended the two-day seminar, which featured software demonstrations for QUESTware’s latest release as well as an update on North Harris College’s metal building program curriculum.

The Houston area metal construction industry is rather extensive, with some 20 individual companies that fabricate building systems, manufacture components for a building, or perform engineering, detailing or consulting services for the industry.  This is also a specialized industry, a trade mark of the low-rise commercial and industrial construction, and differing somewhat from more traditional heavier structural design and fabrication utilized by high-rise commercial and industrial structures. The preponderance of steel construction taking place in the Greater Houston area utilizes design systems developed within this industry.

As the industry expanded quickly, local companies began experiencing difficulties in finding trained employees in the specifics of pre-engineered metal building systems. Structural steel detailers (those individuals that prepare the highly detailed drawings and material take-off necessary for fabrication) were–and still are–in short supply. 

“In addition to Cy-Fair College, NHC’s sister college, the only other community college–and the only institution of higher education–in the United States producing associate degree graduates of a Metal Building System educational program is out of state–in Iowa. Houston area companies have recruited from this school in past years rather unsuccessfully, mostly because many students did not want to relocate,” says Dr. Larry Brillhart, NHC’s professor of engineering design technology.

The industry collaboration over the past five years has been amazing. According to Dr. Brillhart, North Harris College has had students, who have not yet completed the degree program employed by three local companies. Additionally, several companies have enrolled their employees–even graduate civil engineers–to take the college’s structural and metal building systems courses. 

“Three of these students are currently employed by NCI Building Systems, a company which has been extremely supportive of the program since its beginning,” says Dr. Brillhart. “These students, who have yet to complete the degree program, are undergoing extensive in-house training to function as detailers.  Additionally, NCI has instituted a paid two-semester co-op program (and, also, paying tuition) for North Harris College students.”

Furthermore, the associate of applied science degree in pre-engineered metal building systems drafting and design closely parallels the colleges’ associate of applied science degree in architectural engineering technology, which shares most of the same courses. This was done purposefully to train future architects and architectural designers in the specifics of the metal building systems industry. Many commercial, and residential, buildings have begun using steel systems developed by this industry.

In 2001, QUESTware Corp, located in Hendersonville, Tennessee, showed immense support for NHC’s program, through a $85,000 software package donation, which is used in the college’s program. QUESTware Corp has continued to donate $12,000 annually in updates and support for the program ever since.

“It is important to the livelihood of specialized industries, such as metal building manufacturing, to see the need and support educational programs in order to make sure there is a trained and qualified workforce for the future,” says Lewis Ellis, QUESTware’s general manager and owner. “There was and still is a very real need for structural steel detailers in all phases of the structural steel fabrication industry.  Many of the more senior members of this structural steel designers group have mostly retired, and not enough of younger individuals have entered the field.”

For more information about North Harris College’s program, call Dr. Larry Brillhart at 281.765.7923.

North Harris College is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. Registration for summer 2007 is currently in progress. For general information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit northharris.lonestar.edu.

NHMCCD, among the five largest and fastest growing community colleges in Texas, comprise, Cy-Fair College, Kingwood College, Montgomery College, North Harris College, Tomball College, six satellite centers, and The University Center.



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