Teaming Up for the Trades

Feature

Teaming Up for the Trades

The Baltimore Carpentry Task Force brings students together to explore construction careers

Group of tech students from Edmondson Westside High School standing outside

There is a vision unfolding in Baltimore to create a more comprehensive plan for exposing high school students to the many opportunities available to them in the construction trades. Last fall, framer and NFC president Scott Stevens teamed up with component manufacturer and SBCA member Aaron Mulligan to kick off the Baltimore Carpentry Task Force. “For many years I have been attempting to make a direct connection with a Baltimore City high school trade class with the goal of providing some ‘real-life’ experience for students to support what they are learning in the classroom,” explains Scott, president of Modu Tech, a turnkey carpentry company with a 25-year history in the Baltimore area. “My other goal is to build some relationships between the business owners looking for employees and those young folks looking for jobs.”

Scott and Aaron took the first step toward achieving these goals in December of last year as Modu Tech and Stark Truss Baltimore hosted a tour for 50 tech students and their instructor from Edmondson Westside High School (EWHS). The field trip included tours of both the lumberyard and the component manufacturing plant, with breaks for lunch and discussion, to give the students a broad understanding of opportunities available in the wood construction industry. 

“I think it went well,” says Aaron, Stark’s plant manager in Baltimore. “I think some of the kids took some good stuff from it. They made connections between what they were learning in class and what they were seeing. We got good feedback. I would definitely like to do it again.”

Alvin Booze, carpentry instructor at EWHS, agreed. “The session was truly informative as to how relevant the material we are learning truly is in today’s market,” he wrote in an email to Scott following the event. “The efforts of you and your staff opened minds and allowed them to make a mental connection for themselves…. True learning was inevitable that day. Kudos to your staff for their help in making the trip memorable.”

Lessons Learned

While happy with their first event in this endeavor, both Scott and Aaron shared that there were a few things they will do differently as they move forward. “We’ll definitely make the tour groups smaller in the future – smaller groups or more tour leaders with 12-15 kids per leader,” says Scott. “Having 25 kids in a group seemed too big.”

Making the experience more hands-on is a goal as well, says Aaron, who plans to set up a hands-on station to build trusses for future events: “Any time you can show how the product is made is a good opportunity.”

Both agreed they will focus more on what they have in common with the students. “I will do more to share how I started at square one, as a laborer on a construction crew,” Scott says. “It wasn’t handed to me.” Aaron agrees. “I went through a vocational program like they’re doing. The opportunities are there,” he says, “but we need to emphasize that it takes hard work to get where you want to get in the construction industry. The key is sticking with it and working hard.”

A Look to the Future

If hard work is the key to success, Scott and Aaron are on track for a win-win. “This is an experiment,” explains Scott. “The good outcome is that we continue to do these tours on a regular basis and get other businesses in the construction/building material industry involved as well.” Ultimately, as the task force grows and can schedule tours with schools on a continual flow, Scott’s hope is “to change the culture in the Baltimore area that if you’re in the building industry, you want to get involved with this program and get on the calendar so students are made very aware of the opportunities available in the construction trades.”

As they hone their process, Modu Tech and Stark Truss will use the “task force” approach to build cohesion among players in the marketplace, strengthening existing business relationships and paving the way for new ones. “We can share best practices on how to do this,” says Scott. “We are blazing the trail.”

Despite the work ahead, the future of the task force seems bright. “If this is an effort towards an annual trip,” writes Alvin. “EWHS is all in.” 

Tips for Engaging Students

As you prepare for a tour with students, Aaron suggests taking some time to think about your audience and what you might have in common. Thinking back to his days in school and knowing that many of the students would be a little slow to warm up, he employed a universally successful tactic with almost any group – candy! 

“I started with some simple questions,” he explains. “Those that answered got a piece of candy, and they started opening up.” Aaron also worked to make learning more about trusses as fun as possible, employing a truss terminology game. This seemed to make the students more comfortable as they were able to apply some of what they were learning in the classroom.

Second only to candy, short videos are another way to reach young people, says Aaron. In addition to SBCA’s industry overview video, Aaron shared “Change the World by Making Your Bed,” Navy Admiral William McRaven’s 2014 University of Texas commencement address that focuses on the importance of accomplishing little things every day. In his comments on the event, the students’ instructor specifically thanked Aaron for sharing this “inspirational” video with his students.

In preparation for the tour, Scott also reached out to SBCA for materials to share with the students, including copies of SBC Magazine, a customizable handout on opportunities and wages in a local market, and other workforce development materials from SBCA’s website. In addition to these resources, SBCA has also developed plant tour resources to assist you in planning tours for a variety of audiences.

About the Author: Mindy Caldwell explores how component manufacturers find success growing market share and building their employment base.

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