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By Erica Sweeney
September 18, 2017
Construction companies nationwide are in dire need of a steady pipeline of skilled workers. And, administrators at the Burlington County Institute of Technology in New Jersey are doing something about it with the launch of a new School of Construction Technology.
BCIT, a career and technical education institution for high school students and adults, offers four construction-focused sequences: carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and welding, as well as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. All focus areas are offered at BCIT’s Medford, New Jersey, campus, while the Westampton campus offers HVAC-R and plumbing. The program combines coursework and apprenticeships, and students graduate with job-ready credentials.
Many construction courses were already offered at BCIT. However, Superintendent Christopher Nagy says the new school came out of conversations with leaders at community construction companies, the local Chamber of Commerce, and workforce development boards, where everyone expressed their need for skilled workers and skills enhancement for existing workers.
“I really had firsthand understanding after having these conversations, and this was a true opportunity for us to fill a niche,” he says.
A recent construction industry-wide survey by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America found that 70 per cent of construction firms struggle to fill hourly craft positions. They actually represent a sizeable part of the construction workforce. Most also expect the labor shortages to continue as demand for construction keeps growing.
BCIT committed new resources, including adding virtual reality stations to the school’s welding shop, upgrading facilities, and partnering with union and non-union groups to make the school possible, hoping to position itself as a construction workforce training hub.
“I think this is one of the most exciting convergences of opportunity in the United States for the construction trade industry,” Nagy says.
Learning the Trades
For generations, high school guidance counselors and parents touted four-year degrees as the most lucrative career path for young people. A career in the trades, on the other hand, provides stable, high-earning potential. Nagy says students should have access to both paths.
“We’re putting a lot of time and effort putting all these pieces together to shed light for our young people that [construction] is an opportunity,” Nagy explains. “The focus is creating opportunities for employment. By looking at that as a theme, we want to look at where the jobs are and to place the resources, such as in construction technology, so that students know and have a level of confidence that they will have employable skills.”
In addition to targeting high school students, Nagy wants to reach out to adults who have dropped out of college. He wants to show them the the credentials they can earn at BCIT, and to prove the construction industry offers many job opportunities with attractive salaries.
“We have jobs ready for you,” he explains. “Let’s have a conversation and connect students with their future opportunities. This whole focus creates the opportunity for us with the upgraded facility to truly position the Institute of Technology as the go-to place for skilled workers of the future.”
The 2017-18 school year started September 6 with just over 150 students enrolled in the School of Construction Technology. The HVAC-R and welding focuses had the largest enrollment, respectively.
Spreading the Word
The School of Construction Technology features a combination of classroom instruction and fieldwork. Students study building codes, math associated with building, working with blueprints, and managing people and jobsites, along with courses focused on specific areas of construction.
BCIT is a full-time high school, where students are also required to meet math, English, science, and other educational requirements. But, unlike other high schools, BCIT students will be credentialed and job-ready when they graduate—or, if they want, they can continue their education at the college level.
Plus, Nagy says, students starting out in construction fields can earn $70,000 to $80,000 in many cases.
“A number of our students are actually graduating from high school with an industry credential and, on top of that, also up to two years worth of college credits before they graduate from high school,” he says.
Nagy says the new construction school’s focus on apprenticeships will provide students with valuable real-life experience. In mid-November, BCIT is holding a construction trades fair for National Apprenticeship Week. Manufacturers, artisans, and construction managers from the region will visit and share their experience with students.
Spreading the word about the new School of Construction Technology is Nagy’s mission. BCIT staff are embracing technology to do so, taking a “deep dive in leveraging social media to tell [prospective students] what it is and about the opportunities,” he says. They also plan to create videos about the different career paths available.
“It's our time to meet the needs of the community and this globalization shift where technology is the driver,” he says. “I think we’re able to provide our young people with a solid foundation of marketable skillsets upon which they can build new knowledge. I think we will have done a great service not only for the student but also for our country.”
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