One of the biggest challenges in industry today in New Hampshire is the workforce labor shortage, a reality that serves as backdrop to a new construction career exploration program at Parkside Middle School in Manchester.
According to Jennifer Landon of Associated Builders and Contractors of New Hampshire/Vermont (ABC NH/VT), the program is unique in that it provides an educational curriculum with significant input from industry.
“Our role was to bring industry partners to the table to not only discuss what they wanted to see taught, but to be involved in the classroom and supplement the learning experience,” she said. “We’ve also reached out to suppliers to help supplement initial materials costs.”
She said ABC’s involvement stems from a call they received last year from Procon’s Jimmy Lehoux, who at the time was pushing for election to the Manchester Board of School Committee. His message during his election campaign, which he won, included a desire to bring the trades back into the schools.
“Since the 90s, trades have been slowly disappearing from our schools, and now the industry is paying the price,” he said.
This price, he noted, is an industry struggling to find workers.
“Today’s average age of a trades person is around age 53, which means that in 10 years there will be a major gap in skilled labor,” he said. “We need to help students identify the opportunities that exist in this field and also recognize that they can have an extremely successful career.”
In helping build the program with educators at the school, district officials, industry partners, ABC and others, Lehoux said they are taking a very necessary first step to addressing this need in the construction industry. As for how it works, he said the program takes the traditional wood-shop class and breaks it into mini-segments on the trades.
“Every two to three weeks the trades change to give the students an overview of different disciplines in construction,” he explained. “After each segment, an industry professional comes in and speaks with the students on subject matter, such as architecture, safety, framing, drywall, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and masonry.”
Landon said the program is also flexible enough to welcome industry partners in related sectors.
“We can expose them to many different career fields in the industry and how everything works together,” she said. “We need to build a pipeline into CTE, so having industry partners is what makes this program so unique and important. We need industry partners talking about their trades, their career paths, and the quality of life this industry offers to engage younger students. We need to expand the IBuildNH brand.”
According to Lehoux, the program is also important in that it dispels pervasive myths about construction careers, which he said many people mistakenly think are meant for those not interested in college.
“Technology has taken the lead in how we construct commercial buildings as well as residential homes,” he said.
While currently at Parkside Middle School, the program may serve as a template that could be replicated at the other three middle schools in Manchester in 2019.
“They all want in,” said Landon, who noted they are to all meet as a group in mid-December to discuss replicating the program.
The strength of this program, she said, is not just its content.
“This type of program, regardless of content, allows students to make better informed decisions about their career options,” she said. “There are several challenges we face in career planning. How do we shift the paradigm with the adult influencers? How do we embrace career exploration? What can we do to keep our youth in New Hampshire to contribute to our local economy?”
The answer is complicated, but she said industry input will continue to be essential.
“Through the Sector Partner Initiative, we are hoping programs like the one we are piloting at Parkside will help address the critical labor shortage,” she added. “The program reflects a model built around industry/education partnerships. We would like to see industry partners essentially adopt a school and have it built into their business model–everyone will benefit from such a model.”
To learn more about the construction career exploration program, or related ABC NH/VT and Sector Partner Initiative (SPI) initiatives, visit www.abcnhvt.org and https://nhsectorpartners.org/industries/construction/.