Programs expose metro Atlanta students to construction industry

More Georgia school systems are including younger students in career and technical education programs, with one of the most popular being the construction trade.

With an anticipated shortage of 61,168 construction workers in Georgia this year, according to the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), businesses are looking to grow the needed talent locally.

Georgia public schools have more than 17,000 students enrolled in 150 skilled trade construction and metals programs throughout the state. CEFGA is comprised of industry professionals from over 300 companies in the state.

CEFGA CareerExpo 2019 was held in mid-March at the International Convention Center.

“We had 11 different middle schools at this year’s CareerExpo. We actively work with two middle school construction programs in Roswell/Fulton County,” said Scott Shelar, CEFGA president and CEO. “The Roswell model is the first one with programs all the way down to the elementary [school] level that also covers every school in a cluster.”

His organization is encouraging other school systems to follow Roswell’s lead.

“The middle school programs are unique in that they offer high volume exposure to the trades and allow students to discover aptitudes that would otherwise remain hidden.”

Students from Fulton County’s Ridgeview Charter Middle School were among the attendees this year. Graduation coach LaShonda Mills said it’s a great way for students to realize there are lots of career possibilities.

“The expo gives them hands-on experience to see what the various jobs are and what they entail,” she said. “And the great thing is that there are plenty of professionals here to answer all their questions.”

A trio of 6th-grade girls from Riverview floated from one exhibit to another. Xiomara Calleas said she’s interested in electrical work.

“There’s always a need for that,” Calleas said. “In new construction, rehabbing old buildings and one day I could own my own company.”

“I think plumbing is where I’ll end up,” said Aislyn Quinto as she pointed to a scissor lift. “Or maybe something where I could use that.”

Charles Crosby, president of Core Project Management said the young ladies’ aspirations reminded him of another student who changed career plans after being wowed by the construction field.

“I was the advisor with my first middle school construction club at North Springs and I asked this 8th-grade student what was her favorite trade,” he said. “Without hesitation she said concrete. I thought how cool is that to find a young lady who enjoys working with concrete.”

Vanessa Lovinsky’s middle school field trip to the annual construction expo piqued her interest in the field. Now she’s a freshman at Gwinnett Technical College studying construction management.

“I still love concrete,” she laughed. “But I won’t be working first-hand with it much as a manager.”

She’ll be more involved with managing projects and scheduling workers, she said.

Her parents weren’t overjoyed at first when she told them she changed her mind from a field in medicine to one in construction.

“They were worried I’d cut off a finger,” she said. “But I’ve always loved science and math and I’ll be using those skills just about every day.”

She added that the hands-on aspect and the creativity also were draws.

“My mom is on board now and she’s slowly winning my dad over,” she said.

Opening doors for women, minorities and students who aren't sure that they want to spend four more years in college is why the career technical pathway is growing.

Cobb County already has a rigorous curriculum in CTAE and just last week the Board of Education allocated funds for a new $14.5 million contract to construct the Cobb Career Academy on the campus of Osborne High School. The magnet program is set to open for the 2020-2021 school year.

And Marietta will open its college and career academy, which is funded through a $3.1 million grant and with about $9 million of SPLOST money, in January.

Gwinnett County Schools doesn't currently have a separate careers course for construction in middle and elementary schools, said Jody Reeves, executive director of Gwinnett's Department of Academies, Career and Technical Education. However, the team is working on a careers course in middle school that could be adapted for any field.

By the Numbers

2018- 180,600 craft labor jobs in Georgia

2019- 231,026 craft labor jobs expected to be needed in Georgia

Shortage of 61,168 workers in 2019 alone

Source: CEFGA

The Fulton County model

Elementary Schools: Roswell Feeder System of 6 schools. Mimosa, Sweet Apple, Roswell North, Vickery Mill, Hembree Springs, Mountain Park (20 students per location). Run by a local volunteer group called Toolbox. Supported by CEFGA, AGC Georgia, and Roswell Rotary.

Middle Schools: Crabapple and Elkins Pointe (600+ students each)

High School: Roswell High School (80 students, 110 registered for next year)

Other models:

Hall County Schools: South Hall Middle/Academies of Discovery (First Year) feeds into Johnson High School & Lanier College and Career Academy

Gainesville City Schools: Gainesville High School, Gainesville Middle School.

Rome High School and Rome Middle School: First year

Elementary - Putnam County Schools: Fourth and fifth grade program done as an actual class during the school day.

Source: CEFGA