Beyond College Readiness: Expanding Career Opportunities for Students in the Construction Industries

By Jon Olson

Reading through the multiple session descriptions at the 2015 NCDA Global Career Development Conference, I quickly realized that I was in a minority. Tried as I may, I was unsuccessful at finding another woodshop teacher in the crowd.

I teach carpentry courses at the high school level. "Introduction to Carpentry" is the first course that students take. There is a fair amount of tool usage and safety instruction involved as I have 260 fingers in each class that must stay attached to their owners throughout the semester. Students learn construction techniques, materials selection, and perhaps most importantly… how to read a tape measure. But learning carpentry skills and safety is only the first challenge I face with my students.

Opportunities Beyond the Core Curriculum
Beyond the core curriculum of “building stuff” I spend a fair amount of time counseling my students on career opportunities in the construction industry. Becoming career literacy proficient in the construction industry is the second challenge I ensure my student overcome. Students develop a clear understanding for various career fields, wages, working conditions, future employment outlooks, and how to attain the proper training to enter into a particular area within the construction industry. This knowledge building often extends beyond the basics careers of "plumber, carpenter, or roofer" to include discussion of how accountants, marketing directors, and even web site developers are essential to the construction industry. Many of the careers in the construction industries however, require little to no college degree.

College education is increasingly becoming out of reach to many students. A recent Harvard University study (Symonds, William, Schwartz, & Ferguston, 2011) noted that only about half of America's college students graduate within six years. With the other half, many will try different universities, colleges, trade schools, and other post-secondary training opportunities, and many will fail or simply drop out. In today's society, there is a stigma associated with not attaining a four-year degree. Yet, in the typical high school classroom, preparing students to be "college ready" dominate the curriculum. This is a disservice to many of our students that could find great success in a career field such as in the construction industries, that does not require a four-year degree. In Nebraska, for example, careers in the construction trades are booming and employers are struggling to find a qualified workforce. The Nebraska Department of Labor, Department of Economic Development and Department of Education have identified the term "Hot Jobs" as career opportunities that are High Wage, High Demand, and High Skill (h3.ne.gov, 2015). Currently, six out of these top 10 "Hot Jobs" are directly related to the construction trades, none of which require more than a two-year technical degree. Educators have an opportunity to provide students with insight into construction career opportunities.

A Personal Reflection
As I reflected on what attracted me to the field, I realize I was an at-risk student going to drop out my sophomore year until my woodshop teacher saw the “potential” in me. He worked with the onsite counselor and administrator to provide me the opportunity that exposed me to this career. Through this opportunity, he set me on the pathway to become a woodshop teacher. The only reason I am a woodshop teacher and not a high school dropout is because my teacher provided me with the opportunity to develop my potential in this field. This opportunity that I was shown provided a gateway to enter into a career field that allows me to make a positive impact on other's lives, and ultimately shape the world of tomorrow. When teachers, counselors, and specialists collaborate in providing such career assistance, it opens up a world of opportunity for students.

It is important that educators and career counselors collaborate to expand student opportunities in the construction industry. Educators are experts in their discipline and can identify numerous opportunities, within their disciplines, that students could embark upon (Packard, Leach, Ruiz, Nelson, & DiCocco, 2012). It is essential that educators partner with onsite career counselors as each hold a piece of the puzzle that is necessary to helping students and providing them with the pertinent information and tools to transition from an educational setting into a career field (Schenck, Anctil, Smith, & Dahir, 2012). Working in partnership with others and as a team to incorporate the key recommendations below, teachers and career specialists can help expand students’ horizon to find success in careers consistent with their interests.

Strategies For Consideration
1. Forge partnership with Career and Technical educators to ensure that students are being introduced to opportunities within the construction trades.
2. Seek school-wide support, especially backing from school administrators, to place equal emphasis on all career opportunities available to students.
3. Provide students with an opportunity to authentically experience various career fields within the construction industry (e.g., job shadowing, internships, work experience).
4. Look to expand students’ opportunities beyond college to include technical schools and apprenticeships in high demand, high skill and high wage industries.
5. Forge partnership with businesses and industries in the community to provide students with additional resources and support (e.g., scholarships, work-study, sponsorships).

Collaboration is the Key to the Future
Career opportunities in construction are booming yet educational opportunities in construction are dwindling. Through the high school classroom, counselors in collaboration with teachers can provide students with great opportunities to educate students on careers in high demand, high skill, and high wage areas. Educators, career counselors, businesses, and industry must partner together to ensure students are provided the opportunity to learn and experience career fields in the construction industry. Career counselors, classroom teachers, and school administrators can play a vital role in the resurgence of opportunities for students and the future of these industries.



he.ne.gov (2015). High Wage, High Demand, High Skill. Retrieved from http://h3.ne.gov

Packard, B. W., Leach, M., Ruiz, Y., Nelson, C., & DiCocco, H. (2012). School-to-work transition of career and technical education graduates. The Career Development Quarterly, 60, 134-144.

Schenck, P. M., Anctil, T. M., Smith, C. K., & Dahir, C. (2012). Coming full circle: Reoccurring career development trends in schools. The Career Development Quarterly, 60, 221-230.

Symonds, William C., Schwartz R., and Ferguston, R.F. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Retreived from http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/4740480/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011-1.pdf?sequence=1

Jon OlsonJon Olson is in his 10th year as a Career and Technical Education Instructor. He holds a Bachelor's of Science in Education and Human Sciences degree specializing in Industrial Technology Education 6-12, a Master's degree in Educational Curriculum and Development, a second Master's degree in Educational Administration, and is currently completing his Doctorate in Educational Technology and E-Learning. He serves as Department Head for Industrial Technology and plays an active role facilitating the integration College and Career readiness skills across district curriculum. He can be reached at teacherjon@gmail.com.

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Kathryn Troutman   on Saturday 08/01/2015 at 11:17 AM

Dear Woodshop Teacher, This is a great article. I am a federal career coach helping people apply for and land federal jobs. There are many construction positions in the US government. So, along with your coaching your 10th grade students about jobs, remember the US government jobs. You can go to USAJOBS.gov and type in keyword CONSTRUCTION. I just did it and 493 jobs came up. You are right, construction jobs are great and with 6 of the 10 top HOT jobs being construction related, this is a serious career track. Thank you for writing and bringing this to our attention. AND the important fact that a degree is usually not required to start out anyway. Kathryn Troutman, Author, Federal Resume Guidebook, 5th Ed.

Alison O'Brien   on Saturday 08/01/2015 at 02:47 PM

Dear Woodshop Teacher:
Schools are cutting electives such as your class due to budget constraints, mandatory required classes, and intervention classes. I agree with you that all students need to be exposed to CTE classes because a four year degree doesn't guarantee a job. Go with students strengths and job demands for the future!

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