- As construction is a common trade featured in career and technical education programming, high school students at the Atlanta College and Career Academy are gaining skills and experience by helping to build their own classrooms. Having students learn firsthand how to handle construction, maintenance and repair work on building sites can open the door to future jobs.
- Michael Kenig, a former board member for the school and former vice chairman of Holder Construction, a commercial construction company, said real-world experience on building sites like the school’s expansion is critical for opening future career pathways in the industry.
- “It’s common to hire interns for [construction] management positions,” said Kenig, currently a consultant with the training nonprofit Construction Ready. “The idea of doing the same model for craft and skilled workers while they were still in high school was an aha moment.”
Arrangements with local trade associations and companies can bolster CTE opportunities like those in the Atlanta College and Career Academy’s construction program.
But while Kenig said internships can be crucial to helping students gain the experience to graduate job-ready, he acknowledges there are hurdles to creating these opportunities.
For one, schools need to make it easier for people in the industry to connect with students. He suggests schools have active advisory boards, invite construction professionals to speak, or bring students on field trips to local sites.
Local construction trade associations can also become ambassadors for schools, talking with other industry groups and encouraging them to hire summer interns and graduates. In that way, schools can do more than launch a construction CTE program — they can help one flourish.
“You want industry to own the program,” he said. “That’s important when starting a program, but crucial later to sustaining it.”
Kenig said any student can benefit from having hands-on work experience. As an example, he cited an after-school club focused on learning about construction skills that he helped launch at a magnet school.
These clubs may typically focus on engineering or architecture to prepare students for college, Kenig said, but construction skills can also teach students about STEM topics such as the basic math needed to lay out a building, which could be practical for college-bound students.
When asked if they wanted to learn about design and architecture or develop more hands-on skills like plumbing or working with concrete,“a couple of the kids who were going on to college said they wanted to learn about plumbing and concrete,” he said. “They preferred that. If you’re going to design a building one day, having exposure to these hands-on skills, well, you can connect the dots.”