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Educating the next wave of construction workers

Schools are starting to offer high-level construction courses to educate the next generation of workers.

Schools are starting to offer high-level construction courses to educate the next generation of workers.

Though the construction industry has experienced recent growth in hiring and projects nationwide, experts agree that there is still a troublesome skills shortage. Contractors that require specialized workers to take on specific, intensive projects are having difficulty finding those candidates.

The reasons for this are well-documented. The Associated General Contractors of America found in September of 2014 that 74 percent of construction firms were having trouble finding skilled craft workers to fill certain positions. Officials pointed to immigration and education reform as measures that would help address the root causes of the skills shortage. While they are still awaiting immigration reform, it seems that some secondary schools and universities are placing a greater emphasis on construction education.

Wisconsin high school offers advanced construction course
At many high schools in the U.S., students flock to advanced math, English, history and arts classes. Few schools offer more than a cursory introduction to the trades and even then students are not compelled to take them seriously. Unfortunately, shop class is the subject of various jokes in movies and television. But at Horace Mann High School in North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the advanced building construction course is a serious and rigorous class, according to the Fond du Lac Reporter.

"Safety is most important in the beginning," Mike McDowell, woods and construction teacher, told the news source. "They learn about basic measurement – how to read a tape measure. Then they get into all the different machines: cutting on a band saw, using a drill press, table saw and other tools."

But there's more to the classes than just learning how to operate power tools and connect fasteners. Students are also taught the importance of resume writing, interviewing, dependability, cooperation and other "soft skills" that contractors look for. Plus, student projects yield working, usable products like coffee tables or bed headboards. The final assignment is to build a working charcoal grill. These skills will connect students with employers and prepare them for more advanced training later on.

University of Texas SA connects students to the latest in construction
At a new teaching facility for the University of Texas at San Antonio, students have the opportunity to learn about virtual design and other cutting edge construction methods. The building, called the Bartlett Cocke General Contractors Teaching and Research Laboratory, is committed to raising the next generation of skilled construction workers.

The facility makes use of technology as a teaching method, as well. One classroom is a computer lab with a main screen to help teach virtual modeling, while the other includes a 15-foot interactive projection monitor. Students have access to professional-grade design software that architects and contractors use in real-world construction projects today. These programs will allow graduates to get a head start on their competition and transition directly into quality, specialized construction careers.

Through programs at the high school and collegiate level, young people are learning more about the industry and how modern construction tools and techniques can help them carve out lasting, rewarding careers.