The substance of this article originally appeared in the NH Career and Technical Education “Pathways to Success” blog, written by Jennifer Landon, director of Education and Workforce Development at Associated Builders and Contractors NH VT.
Solving New Hampshire’s workforce shortage is a significant challenge. It requires creative thinking and programming that is geared to the skills associated with individual sectors. In the construction sector, some companies are taking the long-term approach of addressing the significant workforce challenges by reaching out to middle school students through a new construction career exploration program at Manchester’s Parkside Middle School.
This new program is unique as it combines 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,” said Jennifer Landon, director of education and workforce development for Associated Builders and Contractors of New Hampshire/Vermont (ABC). “We’ve also reached out to suppliers to help supplement initial materials costs.”
The construction industry is one of five sectors that have been identified as key drivers of the NH economy through the NH Sector Partnerships Initiative (SPI). SPI is an industry-driven state-wide effort to help New Hampshire businesses in targeted industries address common workforce needs. Focusing on five core industries – construction, health care, hospitality, manufacturing and technology – SPI assists companies in finding funding and training resources that provide employees with improved skills and career advancement opportunities.
How the Parkside Middle School construction project started
According to Landon, ABC’s involvement stems from a call they received last fall from Procon’s Jimmy Lehoux, who was running for the Manchester Board of School Committee at the time. His message included a desire to bring the trades back into schools.
“Since the ‘90s, trades have been slowly disappearing from our schools, and now the industry is paying the price,” Lehoux said. As a result, the sector is struggling to find workers despite strong earning potential and a significant number of available positions at all skill levels.
“Today’s average age of a tradesperson 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 help them recognize that they can have an extremely successful career.”
To build the program, educators at the school, district officials, industry partners such as ABC and others came together to determine how they could begin addressing this labor need in the construction industry. As for how it works, Lehoux said the program takes the traditional woodshop 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 said. “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 CTEs, 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.”
Leading the way in solving construction workforce challenges
While currently at Parkside Middle School, the program may serve as a template that could be replicated at Manchester’s three other middle schools in 2019.
“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 keep them contributing to our local economy?”
The answer is complicated, but she said industry input will continue to be essential in providing answers.
“Through the Sector Partnerships 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 and education partnerships. We would like to see industry partners essentially adopt a school and have it built into their business model – a model everyone will benefit from.”
To learn more about the construction career exploration program, or related ABC NH/VT and Sector Partnerships Initiative (SPI) projects and initiatives, visit abcnhvt.org or IBuildNH.org.