Funding the Future

The industry’s labor problem has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. Rather than continue to rehash the same old debate, Professional Remodeler, along with Professional Builder, has teamed with the Home Builders Institute and...

May 31, 2000

The industry’s labor problem has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. Rather than continue to rehash the same old debate, Professional Remodeler, along with Professional Builder, has teamed with the Home Builders Institute and SkillsUSA-VICA to devise a solution to the labor shortage and help vocational students and at-risk youth secure employment.

A portion of each full-page ad bought in this month’s issues of Professional Remodeler and Professional Builder will be split and donated to the Philip Polivchak Job Corps Transition Fund and SkillsUSA-VICA’s Team Build Fund.

"By getting involved, we believe we can market the programs, pull in more community involvement, eliminate excuses for not being involved and set a real career path for individuals who are willing to commit to a profession in the building trades," says Dean Horowitz, publisher of the two magazines.

Named for a man who served as president and CEO of the Home Builders Institute for 33 years, the Transition Fund continues in the same vein as his vision and leadership. In 1967, with the HBA of Northern Kentucky, Polivchak established the NAHB’s first construction skills training program, which continues to operate. HBI has since trained and placed more than 200,000 individuals in the construction trades. The Home Builders Institute is the largest vocational trainer for Job Corps, the nation’s oldest and largest federal residential education and training program for at-risk youth. With nearly 70,000 students participating in its residential program, Job Corps has 115 sites nationwide. It’s an open-entry and open-exit program, so students learn at their own pace and can stay up to two years. Most take nine to 14 months to complete the program. Eighty percent of students come to the program without high school diplomas or GEDs. Those without go to regular classes one week and vocational classes the next. "We call it an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ week," says Keith Albright of HBI. After earning a GED or diploma, they then become full-time trade students and receive instruction in eight construction trades. They train in classrooms and on construction sites.

By the time students complete their programs, they will have earned $800 to $1,000 in readjustment money, which they receive upon graduation. Many of the students come from environments where they can’t return, so to make the jump from school to employment, they need a place to live and a car to drive to work. "Nowadays, you need first month’s and second month’s rent as a down payment; that could be their readjustment check right there," Albright says. Add minimal furnishings -- such as a bed, couch, table and chairs, linens and dishes -- to the list of bare necessities, and that student is beyond the $800 to $1,000.

"Now here’s somebody who’s eager, ready to go and committed to the program for a year or better and now wants to go out and be a self-dependent member of the working world," says Albright. "If that student can’t afford an apartment or gets the apartment but can’t get the car that he needs to make it to work, then he’s not going to go to work. If you don’t go to work immediately after you leave this program, it’s very possible you can go right back to the world that you came from and settle right in doing nothing."

Vocational students will test their technical and teamwork skills at SkillsUSA-VICA Team Build.

 

That’s where the fund makes the difference. "This fund is going to be used as the additional buffer to totally ensure that success will happen with this student," he says. Sometimes as little as $50 can guarantee success. "Even if it’s only $50 more that makes the difference between a safe apartment or an apartment that’s in a drug-ridden area, you certainly want to go the extra 50 bucks," says Albright. The program has given as little as $50 to one person out of this fund and as much as $1,000 to another. "The smallest amount is such a help."

To ensure that the fund money is used properly, HBI receives a copy of each student’s readjustment check as well as copies of expenses. Additionally, any readjustment check is always made out to a vendor. "The money goes directly to the car dealer or the apartment to where the student is going to live," Albright says.

By aiding these students, the fund also helps solve the labor shortage plaguing the industry. "By one student getting a job and being successful, that contractor says, ‘This guy was great, can you send me three more?’ Maybe the three more we send don’t need any additional funding, but because the one person benefited from the fund, he or she helped three others get a job. That’s how this works."

Membership in SkillsUSA-VICA, a professional association for students enrolled in trade education, affords HBI and other vocational students the opportunity to test their training during Team Build, sponsored by SkillsUSA-VICA. The Team Build event was developed by Stanley Works and SkillsUSA-VICA with the help of a technical committee composed of industry leaders. It is the first team event in the building trades disciplines ever and will be held at the SkillsUSA-VICA championships in Kansas City, Mo., June 26-30.

"We are attempting the first construction trades competitive event where students will be working together in more than one discipline," says Tim Lawrence, director of Business and Industry partnerships for SkillsUSA-VICA. The Team Build event will test technical skills in the masonry, carpentry, electrical and plumbing trades as well as the business organizational skills of four individuals who must come together to work as a team. In just two days, each team will be required to schedule a project, estimate materials, make a verbal presentation and then actually build a modular kitchen that tests their construction, organizational and safety skills. A panel of judges, composed of industry leaders, will score students equally on technical and teamwork skills.

"This is the first opportunity for students to demonstrate not only their technical skills but also their teamwork and the concept of working together on a project," says Lawrence. "The other thing that the Team Build event will do is we hope it will draw attention to the positive side of construction trades training and draw attention to some the best young people in the country who are training in those areas."

By helping these students gain a foothold on employment through the Transition Fund or the Team Build Event, the construction industry benefits as well.

"We’re desperately trying to improve the image not only of construction trades and construction careers but also technical education across the board," says Lawrence. The donated funds are "a key part of success in this program."

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 306,000 new computer programmers and 68,000 computer-aided design drafters will be needed from 1996 to 2006, Lawrence says. In contrast, 1.27 million workers will be needed in the construction trades.

"If you look at the number of computer programmers versus the number of people needed in construction trades alone, there’s a huge disparity," says Lawrence. "So the opportunity is there. We just have to let young people and the general public know that it’s there."

The donated funds will help train quality people for these positions. HBI had an 87% placement rate last year and has placed more than 4,000 students to date. With the help of this fund, those numbers will continue to grow.

"It has really made the difference in so many of our students’ lives -- a tremendous impact," says Albright. "We’re so grateful for the contributions that we do get to the fund because we’re helping make a difference in someone’s life. That’s very gratifying from our end."

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