It’s no secret that builders have been facing supply chain issues the past couple of years, leading to an unprecedented shortage of homes. But few realize how a shortage of skilled labor is aggravating the situation.
Young people these days aren’t drawn to the building industry, said Sean Kessler, owner of Brooksville-based L&S Design and Construction.
“They like doing this,” said Kessler, moving with his hands like he’s playing a video game or posting on a social media website. “When it comes to construction work, they think of a sunburned old guy with bad knees and they say, ‘I don’t want that to be me.'”
But there are ways to participate in what can be a very lucrative profession without “banging nails” for a paycheck, Kessler said. Opening a path to a good or great living in the building industry is what a new program launching next month at Pasco Hernando State College is all about.
Though framing, electrical and plumbing are covered in the course, drafting and project management, job estimating and other building-related skills are included for those who might be averse to laboring outdoors in the hot Florida sun.
Kessler began working with Alysen Heil, dean of workforce development at the North campus in Brooksville, a couple of years ago to put together a construction and design program. The free course, which places students in paid apprentice positions with local contractors, begins July 21. It’s hoped at least 20 students will sign up. That’s also the hope of several local contractors and others in the building field who attended a reception on campus held June 8 to introduce them to the new program, funded in part by a state grant.
“It’s a long overdue,” said Eric van de Boogaard, a third-generation Hernando County builder and member of the advisory board for the program, who said many contractors are having trouble finding skilled workers these days.
“I hope so; It’s a hard job working outside in the cold and heat, ”he responded when asked if the PHSC program might help with the local labor shortage. “But hopefully some of them will be up to it.”
Kessler’s take is that there will always be people who like working with their hands and don’t mind outdoor work, but even if they find it doesn’t suit them, they can leverage what they learn in course and through apprenticeships to get on a path to working in engineering, design or project management.
Others “may discover that they like working with concrete and they want to stick with that and go no further,” said Kessler. “That’s fine, and we consider that a success; It means that the person has found something they like that they want to dedicate themselves to. “
Heil said that in addition to the class work, the program includes 2,000 hours of work in the field as a paid apprentice. The school recommends participating builders pay apprentices $ 15 per hour for 40 hours per week. For their part, employers will use software linked to the school to periodically evaluate the performance and ability of their apprentices. In addition, a class project will be the construction of 420-square-foot cabin home with a loft. It will be made modular so it can be dismantled and sold once completed.
One contractor attending the reception noted that he participated in something similar in the past, and ended up hiring two apprentices.
“Within six months they both decided they wanted to go a different route,” he said, adding that one went into the computer field.
Kessler, who uses the Revit design computer program for a living, said instruction in the popular software as part of the design portion of the PHSC program will get students to “basically junior draftsman level,” which can be their launching pad into design and architecture. .
“You can be in the building and not have to swing a hammer and be outside all day,” he said. “There are other opportunities.”
Perhaps nothing proves his point more than the builders who attended the reception to learn more. Nearly all began their careers swinging hammers, but they worked their way up to becoming general contractors, owning their businesses and fielding crews to build homes and commercial structures.
To get to that point, there has to be a starting point. Heil said the new program is designed to be just a jumping-off point.
“It’s to develop competencies and technical proficiency,” she said, adding that the aim is to open career paths for students and “meet the needs (for skilled workers) of tomorrow.”
Another reception to introduce builder / employers to the program will be held before the program launches, though a date has not been set. Anyone interested can contact PHSC Workforce Development / Career and Job Training at 727-816-3123 or email [email protected]