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Programs introduce local high schoolers to construction careers

Santa Rosa Junior College’s plan to open an $8.1 million construction training center at the Petaluma campus in fall 2023 would provide an expanded next step for a growing number of high school students who are getting prepped to enter careers in the building trades.

The college already provides adult education in the building trades, both for those who transfer to degree programs at other institutions and those who seek certificates of professional competency needed to get and maintain jobs. The SRJC Construction Center is set to provide more expanded facilities, tools and courses.

But the construction industry and educators have been trying to encourage more workers to choose the trades, starting in high school. Here’s what’s been happening with programs that have been created in the past several years.

Rick Wells, CEO of Marin Builders Association, said he’s heard about high demand across job levels for motivated, trained and dependable workers.

“The higher the skill level, the higher the demand,” Wells told the Business Journal. “That trend has continued throughout the pandemic and will likely continue as greater numbers of skilled workers retire out of the industry.”

Wells said there is an opportunity to dovetail existing high-school construction training programs with the forthcoming SRJC Construction Center.

There have been several hundred high schoolers trained in construction industry skills through the decades-running Regional Occupation Program operated by the Marin County Office of Education, including over 100 via two new programs in the past four years: North Bay Construction Corps and E2c Construction Academy, according to Wells. Pandemic protocols have limited the current class sizes, he said.

The ROP has eight students enrolled currently. They are set to graduate the program this month. An undetermined number will be seeking internships with local construction companies this summer.

The construction corps currently has 10 students enrolled in its Marin County chapter, which is sponsored by Mario Ghilotti Family Foundation, and plans to place half in two-week internships this month.

The academy, developed in partnership with College of Marin and Canal Alliance, has 22 students enrolled, with half set to participate in an online hiring program at the end of the six-week cohort in a few weeks. The next cohort begins shortly.

Robin Bartholow, who oversees programs for North Coast Builders Exchange, said a survey of members in the middle of last year found that the vast majority are looking for journeyman- and entry-level employees, and nearly 80 percent said they planned on hiring in the next 12 months.

“Our students graduate from the program armed with knowledge about the different trades so they can make an informed decision about the career path that they wish to pursue, and basic skills so they will start off strong in any position,” she said. “(The) industry benefits from the program by being able to meet and teach the students, and then hire entry-level employees that have proven their work ethic over the length of the program.”

Funded by the CTE Foundation of Sonoma County and backed by the Sonoma County Office of Education, North Coast Builders Exchange several years ago started the North Bay Construction Corps in the county and has expanded to more than a dozen high schools. There are now programs in Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

Though the pandemic cut short the program last year and many students exited, 32 ended up graduating, and 19 were offered paid internships at local construction companies last summer, Bartholow said.

This year, 62 students are enrolled, and next month is the two-week boot camp for graduates. Those older than 18 get paid summer internships, and those younger work on community projects such as a Guerneville senior center, tenant improvements for a nonprofit organization and repairing the corps’ Tiny Shelter, which was stolen and damaged, but recovered.

Builders exchange member firms in plumbing, electrical, solar, painting, carpentry and framing, masonry, and landscaping are offering paid internships to corps graduates this summer, Bartholow said.

LIME Foundation has had 185 high school students go through its Nextgen Trades Academy since it started a few years ago, and currently the program is operating in one Sonoma County school plus other nonprofits for at-risk local youth, according to Letitia Hanke, foundation founder and owner of owner of ARS Roofing, Gutters & Solar in Santa Rosa.

“I’m having a hard time finding employees with roofing skills,” she said about her business. She has been looking to bring on some students from SRJC’s roofing apprenticeship program.

Learn more at petaluma.santarosa.edu/srjc-construction-center.

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