More than 40 volunteers from commercial construction companies introduced middle schoolers to the various careers open to them during a hands-on learning day.
ABC Keystone invited school students from Southcentral Pennsylvania to its facility in Manheim this week to get a first-hand look at careers in the trades that need more than 650,000 workers nationally this year alone to meet the rising demand of the industry.
“Young people don’t know about us,” said David Sload, president and CEO of ABC Keystone. “We need to teach them about the opportunities we have and get them to join us.”
The program, Keystone Construction Wars, which started in 2017, is just now seeing students enroll in apprenticeship programs run by ABC Keystone. Sload said there is no concrete data yet, as the first participants have just or are preparing to graduate from high school.
The goal, he said, is to introduce students to the trades and fill jobs for the future.
Sload emphasized the program leads to career paths, not jobs. “Most [of our members] are small to medium-sized businesses where the owner started in the trenches somewhere. Many now own their own business – the American dream.”
Dominic Spencer, a seventh grader from Swift Middle School in the Solanco School District, said he is interested in carpentry and plans to go to a career and technology center in high school.
“I’m a hands-on learner and like these activities,” he said. “My dad was a house builder and I like building things.”
The day included interactive sessions including wiring electrical circuits, building wooden benches, laying brick and constructing PVC pipe projects. The students also learned basic safety requirements and construction technology.
More than that, the students learned how the trades utilize the latest technology to plan, prepare and build commercial properties.
During one session, the students learned how GPS and computers layout a new site and how the information is transferred to large equipment such as bulldozers to set stakes and elevation equipment properly.
They also got to climb aboard some heavy equipment from H.L. Wiker and Flyway Excavating to see how the GPS translates to the machine’s onboard computer system.
Stephanie Larkin, vice president of education, safety and workforce development, said in addition to sparking students’ interests in construction, the information they get helps overcome perceptions that these jobs are lower skilled positions.
“These jobs require intense mathematical problem solving and communication skills,” she said.
Students who choose a career path in construction start as apprentices after graduating from high school. Larkin said the apprenticeship programs are paid so students come out as journey people without being in debt.
Those who study at a career and technology center can earn credit toward an apprenticeship program, allowing them to move on more quickly.
Matthew Barnhart, an Eastern York County School District seventh grader, said he plans on attending a CTC program to get a plumbing apprenticeship.
“My uncle is an electrician and I’ve always liked construction,” he said. “But the plumbing is the most interesting.”
The apprenticeship programs start when students turn 18 because the state Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the industry, requires construction workers to be 18, Larkin said.
The apprenticeship program requires participants to study in classroom two days a month. Students must pass a written math exam or take a construction math class, that Cindy DeWire, director of apprenticeship, said is mostly algebra.
Students also do hands on learning at the facility to make sure they are ready to pass their journey person qualifications, she said.
“Our Career Pathways program is to allow students to see the opportunities that are available,” DeWire said.
“We want them to know what they want to be and how to get there,” she said. “The day is about helping them develop their career path.”
Alicia Henry, of Steelton, said she attended the program for extra credit and to “advance” what she knows. The aspiring lawyer said, “It doesn’t hurt to know how to do this.”
Although she is on a college track at school, she said she likes plumbing and is good at it. “I can teach my siblings this and it will help on my resume,” she said.