Summer academy seeks to address growing lack of young, skilled construction workers

#Towson group hosts summer construction academy at Perry Hall

By the end of July, 17 Baltimore County students will have learned how to install all the plumbing and wiring necessary for a small bathroom with a sink and a toilet to work as it should.

Although a relatively humble project, the students will finish it in possession of valuable skills they did not have before. The group delivering the students instruction in the skills is a Towson-based group dedicated to assisting the construction industry.

The point of the training, which is taking place at Perry Hall High School, is to address head-on a troubling trend in the construction industry — a growing lack of young, skilled workers to replace those who are retiring from the trades.

The training — officially known as the Construction Technology Academy — is hosted by Associated Builders & Contractors Baltimore, which is based in Towson and is the founding chapter of a national organization that now has 70 chapters and more than 24,000 members. The group, which was founded in 1950 in Baltimore, has the goal of helping its members win construction contracts and delivering that work "safely, ethically, profitably and for the betterment of the communities in which ABC and its members work," according to its website.

Partnering with Baltimore County Public Schools and the Community College of Baltimore County, the contracting group is running the academy, which began July 5 and will run through July 29. The course is in its second summer, after a pilot program in 2015 was successful, said Michelle Butt, the group's senior vice president of education and training.

The academy is open to rising seniors in Baltimore County high schools, as well as recent graduates. The program costs $150, and those who attend are required to pass a drug screening.

Of the five students who attended last year's pilot program, one moved on to get a job and apprenticeship in the field, Butt said. This year's group of 17 students — who come from Perry Hall, Chesapeake, Eastern Technical and Patapsco high schools — possess a mix of interests and experience. The program's goal is to give students 100 hours of training in a variety of construction fields, including carpentry, electrical work and plumbing.

"There are so many paths an individual can choose to take and have a very successful career," Butt said, adding that a lack of skilled workers is a real problem in the industry.

In addition to the hands-on lessons the students receive, contractors deliver lectures on the various construction trades, Butt said. Students also receive CPR and first aid training, a Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour certificate, and safety training in a variety of tools, including nail guns.

'A valuable experience'

During the program's July 20 session, students worked in pairs drilling holes and attaching piping to the side of their faux bathrooms. Once finished with the job, they discussed which steps to take next, and checked in with an instructor when they needed guidance.

The program's lead instructor, Carol Caudill, said she has heard from contractors just how severe the skilled work shortage can be. Caudill is a carpentry teacher at Perry Hall High School during the school year, and a former contractor with 20 years experience.

Some contractors have told her that their youngest employee is older than 50, she said.

"We definitely need programs like this," Caudill added. "We need to get that out there — that this is a good field to work in, and it's not just for guys."

Of the program's 17 students, one is a woman.

Caudill said she has enjoyed the summer program because it gives students a chance to try different trades, such as carpentry, plumbing, HVAC and electrical, on a small scale.

Caudill also sees opportunities to use math and reading in the program, boosting students confidence in other classrooms. As part of the program, students must write a resume. They also must practice basic math, geometry and trigonometry to complete their construction work.

Students tell her they hate math, and Caudill tells them, "let's see what we can do," she said.

"You realize you're doing trig?" she recalled telling a student.

At the end of the four-week program, students will have a chance to speak with contractors, Butt said. They also will leave with a resume, portfolio of work and safety certifications.

One participant, Simona Tchitakova, said she entered the program to get a job in construction, which she hopes to use to finance her goal of becoming an anesthesiologist.

"I feel like it's valuable experience," she said. "And I want to build a house one day. I think this is fun."

Another participant, Michael Cangelosi, says he is more interested in automotive work, but believes construction is a viable alternative. Cangelosi graduated from Perry Hall High this spring.

"I like working with my hands, and this is definitely working with my hands," he said.

Butt said this year's academy has been successful, and that she would like to see it repeated next year.

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