Many recall the housing market crash of 2008 and how the construction industry suffered as a result. But eight years later, analysts are predicting a growth of 6 percent in 2016 (Dodge Data & Analytics). And the top problem facing the industry is the shortage of skilled workers. Many employees who left the industry never returned, and as a result companies throughout the United States are still struggling to find workers of various skill levels.
With these new trends projecting growth in the field of construction, NPC’s construction program has refined its approach in helping students be part of this expanding occupation. “As instruc-tors, we’re excited that we’re seeing an increase in demand for our students. Not just on a local level, but we’re seeing our students being hired all around the country,” says Ken Wilk, Construction Technology Program Chair. “There’s a growing demand for students who don’t just have a specialty in one particular trade (like plumbing or electrical), but a general knowledge of construction, and we’re here to meet that need.”
Wilk further explains what steps NPC’s construction program takes to best prepare them for a career after graduation. “One of our first priorities is to have our students be able to take a hands-on approach, to experiment and really find out what trade of construction they want to pursue,” says Wilk. “Our second is to then help them be the most qualified and most in-demand students possible when they leave NPC.”
Reuben Thomas, a student in NPC’s Construction program, explained how much he appreciates the hands-on opportunities. “It’s nice to be able to learn from the textbooks and teachers in the classroom, but to then finish the chapter and go straight to the Skills Center and actually build what we just studied… to practice, and to have all these tools for all of us in this new space, it’s been great.”
With these hands-on priorities in mind, faculty members have had to balance teaching a wide range of construction basics to their students while also allowing them to gain valuable experience to make them prime candidates for employment in two years or less.
“One of the biggest ways we help students become employable is having NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) certifications as part of the curriculum,” says Wilk. “This means that our certifications are recognized nationally, allowing our students to be employable anywhere with portable credentials. Having a standardized curriculum ensures students are hired on the East Coast, in the Midwest, or in the Southwest; instruction is comparable because of what they’ve learned here at NPC.”
Wilk also explains that quality instruction gives students the skills to obtain national certifications. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having top-notch faculty and what that brings to the students in our program,” says Wilk. “Take Jorge Meza [faculty in construction] – he brings years of on-the-job construction experience that helps our students broaden their understanding of the construction industry as a whole. But he also has a strong eye for detail, teaching NPC students a higher level of finishing work and instilling in them really high standards. Not only do his students learn the basics of construction, but most importantly they see what it looks like to finish a project in a professional way.”
NPC students have also been impressed by Meza and other instructors. “The construction teachers here have always been really helpful,” says Scottie Gishie, NPC Construction student. “When we’re building something, it’s nice to have them be able to tell us what differences we would see if we were building something else or if it was at a different job site. Having their work experience available to us has been really helpful to learn the things that aren’t always in the textbooks.”
Wilk is also proud of the additional lessons that are being taught that aren’t necessarily construction-related. “Our instructors obviously teach construction skills, but at the same time, they’re also helping students focus on valuable life skills… Teaching them responsibility, dependability, reaching goals… the skills these students need to succeed after graduation.”
“I’ve been a student at NPC for two years now,” says Gishie. “And in those two years I’ve learned a lot. Even looking at what I’m doing right now: I’m helping to build a house, we’ve built all these sheds… I’ve gotten all of this hands-on experience. It’s nice to see everything that I’ve helped to build, and I’m grateful for what I’ve been able to accomplish here at NPC.”
– Michael Nilsson