Laying the foundation for the next generation of workers

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FORT WAYNE — The sound of hammering filled the halls of Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy’s Construction Trades building as high school juniors and seniors competed in SkillsUSA Indiana Region 2 contests Feb. 9.

Students from FWCS Career Academy and the Impact Institute in Kendallville competed in carpentry, masonry, cabinetmaking, electrical, sheet metal, plumbing and teamwork.

The event was also a homecoming of sorts for graduates of the Career Academy’s construction trades program, instructor Chris Roberts said. Former students were among those who came to watch the competition and serve as judges.

“They’re now grown, working in our region or owning businesses,” he said.

Sam Cook, a 2013 graduate of Snider High School, returned to judge the cabinet-making contest. Students were given plans, materials and four hours to complete a project. As a judge, Cook said he was looking for students’ ability to demonstrate their skills under the pressure of the competition.

Cook is no stranger to nerves; he recalled how nervous he was on his first day in the construction trades program. He almost didn’t go, but he’s glad he did.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

After graduation, Cook worked with his grandfather. Then, about three years ago, he started his own company, Network Construction. He’s the fourth generation in his family that has owned or run their own construction company.

His business philosophy is “Teach. Learn. Build.” Staying involved in the construction trades program is an opportunity to help shape the next generation of workers, he said.

Talent pipeline in action

The SkillsUSA competition is supported by the generosity of the local business community, Roberts said.

“Every piece of prize and material has been donated by local businesses. I have a list. It’s endless,” he said.

Long tables were stacked with such prizes including T-shirts, protective gloves, thermoses, levels, power tools and other donated gear.

Area employers have a vested interest in the program’s success as the need for workers with construction skills increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026 — much faster than the average for all occupations (7 percent).

Robert said the program has grown steadily over the last decade. Only two students competed in the SkillsUSA construction competition 11 years ago. At this year’s event, 52 students competed, nearly half of the total students in the Career Academy’s construction trades program.

Graduates are often hired by local companies or choose to enter an apprenticeship program. On average, those who enter the construction industry in Fort Wayne can expect to make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, according to BLS data. Roberts said it’s not uncommon to hear from former students who are making $10,000-$15,000 more than seasoned teachers.

Gaining skills

North Side High School senior Lesley Quintana volunteered at the skills competition. She’s preparing for a SkillsUSA contest where she will give a presentation and demonstration of a construction skill, such a bricklaying.

She first became interested in learning a trade after helping her father do projects around the house.

“I love working outside. I love working with my hands,” she said.

She’s undecided on her plans after graduation, but she’s considering entering an apprenticeship program or starting college courses.

Nicole Rosswurm watched her son, Tyler, a junior at Snider High School, compete in the carpentry competition.

“He’s always been good with his hands. I think this really helps him with figuring out a career. He wants to go into some kind of construction, so I think this helps him develop the hands-on skills and the knowledge,” she said.

The top five in each competition will advance to the SkillsUSA state competition April 19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. From there, finalists will advance to the national competition in June in Louisville, Ky. A worldwide competition will take place in August in Russia. In past years, the Career Academy’s construction trades program has had 12 students advance to nationals, Roberts said.

Career Academy Students also competed in advertising design; automotive service and precision machining; automotive collision repair; commercial baking, culinary arts and restaurant service; cosmetology, esthetics and nail care; and welding at various locations throughout Fort Wayne.

SkillsUSA State Qualifiers

The following students will advance to the SkillsUSA state competition April 19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Cabinetmaking: 1. Sam Backstrom 2. Andrew Pruser 3. Luke Casterline 4. Will Pancake 5. Sam Spear 6. Olivia Smith 7. Hailey Corell 8. Carlos Rosa (All FWCS Career Academy students)

Electrical Construction Wiring: 1. Eric Blackwell 2. Logan King 3. Christian Villanueva 4. Ehdo Htoo 5. Logan Niccum 6. Alberto Garcia 7. Miguel Guzman (All FWCS Career Academy students)

Carpentry: 1. Tyler Rosswurm (Career Academy) 2. Elijah Lance (Career Academy) 3. Austin McIntosh (Career Academy) 4. Andrew Martz (Career Academy) 5. Jacob Hull (Impact Institute)

TeamWorks: 1. Jacob Berry, Josh Mayer, Hector Garrido, Max Behm and the first alternate- Ryan Harris (All FWCS Career Academy students)

Sheet Metal: 1.Jacob Simmerman (FWCS Career Academy)

Plumbing: 1. Eric Hartman (FWCS Career Academy)

Additional results will be added as they become available.

Source: Fort Wayne Community Schools