By Mary Dougherty
Let me take this opportunity to talk about something good, the Construction Technology Academy at Riverview High School. To say this program has been amazing is an understatement.
From the beginning, we knew there was a workforce shortage in the industry that was exacerbated by the pandemic and looming retirement tsunami, but the unknown was whether there was an interest in the community to fill this workforce need – and, more specifically, if there was an interest among high school students.
GCBX (Gulf Coast Builders Exchange) commends Sarasota County Schools for working with the industry, targeting the job needs in the community and for being responsive to those needs by developing this program, because not only the need, but the interest was overwhelming.
The journey started with the classroom buildout and supplies. The budget was almost $400,000 and a four-month timeframe to get it done. GCBX members stepped up with in-kind donations of time and materials for the actual buildout, leaving the hard dollar need at about $120,000. This need was met through the generous monetary contributions of GCBX members.
The next challenge was to find the perfect instructor. In group meetings, the attributes this instructor should possess were discussed and the Principal at Riverview set out on a recruitment mission. The perfect instructor was found. He possesses knowledge and experience in the industry and the ability to teach and relate to the students. As we like to say, it was like he was from central casting. We were ready to go, but the next step was the real challenge.
Next was to open registration for the first year of the program and hope to fill all 60 spots. This happened within two days of opening registration and had a waiting list of 60 students. Students and their families were definitely interested.
Construction Technology Academy takes off
The Construction Technology Academy was off the ground! The students hit the ground with safety first and training in OSHA requirements, important for the work world, but also important for the classroom. Then, of course, there was Hurricane Ian. The instructor for the course took it as an opportunity to go around campus and pick up debris from the trees that resulted from the hurricane and teach the students how to make usable wood pieces from the branches and then make birdhouses with the bark covering the outside. Of course, building a birdhouse would be a part of a class like this, but these were works of art covered in the natural bark from the trees and the students learned a valuable skill in processing the pieces from downed branches.
As the year has progressed, the students have gone from birdhouses to a tiny house, but more importantly they are developing skills they will use in life and in the workforce. Many of the students have apprenticeship and internship opportunities and are continuing to learn and develop the skills necessary for the workforce; others are preparing for college and using this opportunity to explore their interest in fields such as engineering and architecture.
As the school year is coming to an end, the real test of success is what happens next year. Well, let me tell you, year two is full and also has a waitlist.
This program was a success for the students, but also a success story for the school district and the industry coming together to meet workforce needs. It serves as a great example of how the private sector and the school district can work together to meet workforce needs and provide jobs with successful career paths for graduates in their own community. Let’s hope this program continues long into the future and expands to other high schools in the region.
Mary Dougherty is executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.