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Careers in construction

Northern Kentucky schools and home construction group build a future for students
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2018
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
Instructor Kevin McKnight, left, watches as Ryan  Hughes cuts wood during carpentry class.
A work readiness program in northern Kentucky aims to give students the blueprint for a career in the construction industry.

Shawn Cox, director of professional development for the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, said the industry is facing its biggest workforce shortage since World War II.

“We’re projecting, just in this region alone, between 3,000 and 5,000 jobs within the next three to five years, which is a lot,” Cox said. Factoring in the average age in the industry’s workforce – 60 – Cox said the estimated number of construction jobs to be filled in the area could reach 30,000 over the next decade.
Instructor Kevin McKnight, left, watches as Ryan  Hughes cuts wood during carpentry class.

He said the HBA is “trying to bridge the gap” by exposing high school students to career opportunities in the field. To do that, the association worked with Boone County Schools and the Partners for a Competitive Workforce to create a vocational trades training program.

The program’s classes are taught at the Home Builders Association’s Enzweiler Building Institute, where students are taught about heating and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and carpentry. The program is in its second year and includes students from the Ludlow Independent and Kenton County school systems, with more districts expected to send students in future years.

“It’s an attempt to give young people at the high school level an opportunity to see other things that might be available to them in the career workforce, primarily dealing with building of homes and the different things that go along with that,” said the program’s supervisor instructor Tevis Gray. Gray is a Boone County Schools’ employee who works as a liaison between the district and the HBA.

Jerry Gels, the director of innovative programs for Boone County Schools, said the hope is that students in the program will take that knowledge and combine it with an associate degree in an area such as in business, “so they have those craftsmen’s skills but they also have the business know-how to take care of themselves.”
Raymon Rogers-Casando, left, and Logan Robinson work on a wood-working project during carpentry class at the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.
Cox, Gels and Gray all said even for students who don’t pursue a career in the field, having some basic knowledge of construction will help later in life when owning a home.

“I could really see where this would be something that would be advantageous to any young person going forward in life,” Gray said. “If you don’t know how to take care of things yourself then you’re going to have to pay somebody to come in and do it. … So not only could they use some of these skills themselves, but some of these jobs are great-paying jobs.”
Raymon Rogers-Casando, left, and Logan Robinson work on a wood-working project
during carpentry class at the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.

Gels said the program had been a dream of Boone County Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe for a little more than a decade and some of the waivers the district received through being a district of innovation enabled them to pursue it.

Boone County Schools and the Home Builders Association of northern Kentucky each received grant money last spring to help expand HBA’s Enzweiler Building Institute and also expand to a second facility in Alexandria.

Currently, students can take one year of courses in the Homebuilders/Construction program, but the plan is to add an option for students to continue in the program for a second year to earn co-op credit.

The program was initially funded with a $20,000 grant from the Partners of Competitive Workforce and received grant money for this year from PCW and the R.C. Durr Foundation.

The program has two instructors, whose salaries are paid by the HBA, and about 75-80 students, with the districts paying tuition for their students to be in the program.

Gels said the materials can be expensive and he hopes in the future that local businesses will buy the materials in exchange for students tackling a building project for them.

Last year, students built small model houses that firefighters burned to study how the fire moved through houses. Students also worked with the local parks and recreation department last year, and this spring will build a playground for a Boone County day care center.

“The main thing I’m trying to do is just get them exposed and talk about what it’s like working in the trades,” said Kevin McKnight, one of the program’s instructors. “Some of (the students) you can tell are natural-born craftsmen. It’s fun identifying those kids and encouraging them to pursue these industries that are a great way to make a living.”

McKnight, who also teaches HBA’s adult evening classes, said six students from last year are now in his evening program.

Gels said he isn’t aware of any other districts doing a construction training program. He said it requires the right partner to make it successful “but I think other districts are crazy not to pursue this. Even if the industry isn’t there, what you can do for yourself with this kind of education is transformative.”
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Students: Carpentry class hits nail on the head

When Boone County Schools and the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky began Homebuilders/Construction program 18 months ago, the district’s director of innovative programs, Jerry Gels, thought the students would love the electrical and heating and air conditioning classes.

“What they loved was the carpentry,” Gels said, noting the program hopes to expand to offer more with carpentry and framing in future years.

Hazim Mesinovic, Kaleb  Campbell and Logan Robinson, who are seniors at the district’s Cooper High School, said carpentry was their favorite class there.

Campbell said he signed up for the program this year because a friend in the program last year recommended it. “I just wanted to make stuff and do stuff with my hands,” he said.

Robinson said he entered the program to learn a trade and “even if you don’t use it in career, it’s good to know.”

Mesinovic said math is “my enemy” but using math in conjunction with the construction program has made it easier. “When you put it in a perspective of you have to use it for a certain job or a certain project or something like that, it’s a little bit easier than just sitting in class and trying to do it. So the hands-on definitely helps with that,” he said.
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