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Firms team up to fortify building-and-design workforce

Construction, architecture and engineering companies in the midstate have teamed up to create a student-mentor program that proponents hope will bolster Central Pennsylvania’s building-and-design workforce.

Construction, architecture and engineering companies in the midstate have teamed up to create a student-mentor program that proponents hope will bolster Central Pennsylvania’s building-and-design workforce.

High school juniors and seniors will be exposed to the fields through the Harrisburg/Hershey affiliate of the Architecture, Construction and Engineering Mentor Program of America, also known as ACE. A 16-week series of workshops will begin Nov. 9 and run through April.

School districts are responding. So far, Hershey, Middletown, Central Dauphin, Lower Dauphin, York and several other school districts have expressed interest in workshops, said Robert DeFiore, director of projects for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Co., which is hosting the workshops.

Derry Township-based Hershey Entertainment and 11 other companies will give presentations and arrange on-site visits to job sites to spark interest in the various fields. Professionals from participating companies will lead the workshops.

There is a lack of construction workers, engineers and architects nationally, and the ACE program helps expose students to careers they may have otherwise not considered, said Tim Przybylowski, senior vice president at Benatec Associates, an engineering, planning and consulting firm based in New Cumberland. Przybylowski is a board member at the Central Pennsylvania affiliate of ACE in York and a board member of the Harrisburg/Hershey affiliate.

“Generally speaking, if you read some of the trade publications, there is a lack of workers. We have not built up our professions, and it could turn into a problem,” Przybylowski said.

Some students are put off by engineering and architecture because they believe the fields require professionals who are geniuses in science and mathematics, Przybylowski said.

The fields are not easy, Przybylowski said, but he said he believes it helps when students see how knowledge learned in the classroom is applied in the field.

American colleges and universities are not producing enough engineers to replace those who are retiring, said Mel Schiavelli, president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.

“Only about 30 percent of graduates (nationally) are earning degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Schiavelli said. “They are studying it in India and China. Seventy percent graduate with science and technology degrees there. That’s why companies go overseas to recruit employees for high-paying technical jobs.”

About 23 percent of college graduates in Central Pennsylvania earn science and technology degrees, Schiavelli said. The region is underproducing the national average, which is why HU exists, he said (see “The cost of underproduction,” this page). And anytime Schiavelli has a chance to speak to students on the importance of science and technology in the workforce, he takes it, he said.

Mentor programs such as ACE are invaluable, Schiavelli said. It’s important that students see opportunities that exist in the fields of science and technology, he said.

The Quandel Group Inc. will take students on a tour of one of the company’s construction sites in Central Pennsylvania. There is an unfulfilled need for construction workers in the midstate, and participating in the ACE program is a way to fill that need, said H. Glenn “Bub” Manning, a principal and vice president of marketing and sales for the company, based in Lower Paxton Township.

“I have spent 35 years in the construction market, and we are seeing a growing need in design and construction,” Manning said. “It’s (ACE) a real tangible way to draw kids in and show them opportunities that exist.”

Hershey sees it as a benefit, too. The company provides in-house management of construction projects. Whether it involves construction of an addition to the Hotel Hershey or a new roller coaster at Hersheypark, the company depends on its 12-member group of engineers and architects to manage the job, DeFiore said. It costs the company less to manage its own construction projects, DeFiore said.

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