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Sunday, Jul 14, 2024
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For Students, It’s Not Hammer Time, or Plumbing Time or…

Fewer and fewer high school students are interested in working with their hands, or learning construction’s skilled trades, and instead are heeding the national call for a four-year college degree.

Chad Arendsen, founder of ServicePair and Chad of All Trades Inc., a home remodeling contracting firm, said the focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is in part to blame for a lack of skilled workers.

Chad Arendsen

“My generation is the last generation of kids, in California at least, who had woodshop or auto shop in middle school and high school, and those are those developmental ages where you have the opportunity to find and test your skills and likes,” Arendsen, 37, said.

San Diego students are now learning from Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that develops STEM curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools. Its gateway program provides engineering, biomedical and computer science curriculum to middle schools.

Most schools have begun cutting trade programs to make room for careers with clearer pathways for success, he said.

Kay L. Grimes

“I don’t have any expectations for my kids or their friends to do what I do, but when I talk to that generation, they have zero interest in working with their hands,” Arendsen said. “They have zero interest in building stuff. They are very tech savvy. They want to have a YouTube channel that makes them millions of dollars. They want to have an app company of their own and they all expect to be multimillionaires by the time they’re 20.”

Arendsen said the lack of skilled workers will continue to drive costs up, creating a laborer premium.

Recession Still Hurts

Kay Grimes, vice president of purchasing for Cornerstone Communities in UTC, said cutbacks from the recession contributed to the gap in the industry and it isn’t going away any time soon.

“For so long, there was so little work, trade contractors were bidding projects at little or no profit just to win the job and keep their doors open,” Grimes said. “Quite a few local contractors were forced to shut down. Now there is so much work that the companies who survived the storm can’t service it all. There are labor shortages at every level — from estimating to material production to installation — creating skyrocketing costs and delayed timelines.”

James Michaelian

To counteract this, companies and trade associations have to facilitate their own programs. Arendsen’s hoping his new company ServicePair can help with its mobile application connecting contractors, designers, subs and workers on demand.

Palomar College and San Diego City College have apprenticeship programs, in collaboration with company sponsors.

Enrollment at San Diego City College for its apprenticeship program for the construction trades is at around 500 people, said Rose LaMuraglia, who oversees the program and is dean of the college’s school of business, information technology and cosmetics. The school is the fiscal agent for the program.

Applicants go through a competitive hiring process with construction sponsors — the Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors and Black Contractors Association — before they enter the program to get their associate’s degree or their certificate as a journeyman or official tradesperson.

Other sponsors include San Diego Gas & Electric Co., Solar Turbines Inc., Honeywell, Custom Cutting Tools and the City of San Diego. LaMuraglia recommends viewing the state’s apprenticeship page or the sponsor’s website for hiring information.

“Getting informed is what matters here,” she said. “It depends on who you want to work for and how far you want to go. Not all trades are the same, so get informed.”

College Track Trumps Trades

James Michaelian, a vice principal at Kearny High School’s Stanley E. Foster School of Engineering, Innovation and Design (EID), said the school changed its name and course offerings this past year because more students wanted to be engineers and architects.

He said the public school is no longer a construction technology academy and has stopped addressing the construction-specific sectors to focus on mechanical/civil engineering and architecture.

“We definitely see ourselves more on the track of a college education, which will prepare you to go into the high-tech engineering field,” Michaelian said.

Hoover High School off El Cajon Boulevard offers a Sustainable Academy of Building and Engineering (SABE) with courses in general contracting, construction, architecture, engineering and fine woodwork.

Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower San Diego, a local employment agency, said he wants to show parents that the upper-middle class jobs in construction are great options for their kids.

“I learned many years ago that tracking is a word that sends shivers down people’s backs, whether it’s the blue collar track or the white collar track,” Blair said.

“In effect, the kids go back and forth between the two their whole career…If children want to go into trades or welding or construction, we ought to have options for them.”

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