The following article was authored by Elizabeth McPherson, and originally published on ConstructionCitizen.com.
I recently visited Pasadena ISD’s Dr. Kirk Lewis Career and Technical High School (CTHS) on a day when a group of high school juniors were receiving hands-on training in drywall installation by professionals from Marek Houston. I was invited by Saied Alavi, Director of Operations at Marek, to watch as Marek volunteers Terry Holcombe, Buddy Britt, Aurelio Flores, and Rodrick Horn walked the students through each step of installing drywall to several framed “rooms” which had been previously constructed by students in the large workshop for the Construction Technologies program at the school. I watched students measure the framing, cut the drywall to the required spaces including cutouts for windows and electrical sockets, align the cut drywall, and nail the pieces in place. Walls and ceilings took shape before our eyes.
During a break, I stepped outside with Rodrick Horn, a Drywall/Acoustical Mechanic in the Marek Workforce Development Program, to ask what working in construction has been like for him, and how he feels about construction as a career choice.
Rodrick started out as a laborer at another construction company. He then heard about the Workforce Development Program at Marek – a place where he could train for a position that would pay a higher wage. In the two years Rodrick has worked for Marek, he has advanced and has gained enough experience to teach basic skills to students such as the ones he was working with that day. When I asked how satisfying it was to be able to share such knowledge with the students, he said:
“The more we help to train people, the easier the job gets and the smoother and better everything is for everybody. Overall everybody benefits. The people benefit as they train and develop new skills, and the company benefits to be able to have trained professionals to go out and produce good work.”
I asked if he would recommend construction as a career for someone who was preparing to graduate from high school. Rodrick flashed a wide grin as he said with enthusiasm:
“Absolutely. I definitely have to say that if you are a hands-on person – that is a big part of the deal. If you are like me, a hands-on person, then this is the perfect field for you because everything is hands on. There is a lot of variety – you learn so much. There is just a wealth of information that you can learn from all this. … There is always something new to learn, and not only that, you don’t just use the tools and the skills that you learn at work. They can translate into your life at home. One day you may decide that you want to remodel your house. The skills that you learn here translate into you being able to do that for yourself.”
You can hear all of Rodrick’s interview in the following 2-minute video.
One of the students’ instructors at CTHS is Mr. Lupe Garza, whom I interviewed at a drywall clinic put on by Marek two years ago. When I talked with him during my recent visit, he told me about the many improvements which the new facility has allowed to the career and technical programs. New equipment, a much larger workspace, and two more years with each student have all added to the skill level which it is now possible for each student to attain, allowing them to learn “twice as much” as was possible when the program was only for juniors and seniors. This has allowed them to compete in competitions such as SkillsUSA. In fact, a female student at CTHS recently received second place in a district SkillsUSA competition, and qualified to compete in the competition at the state level.
The students also participate in a program called Rebuilding Together Houston, which the folks at CTHS like to refer to as “Seniors Helping Seniors.” In this program, the students repair 16 to 20 older homes per year belonging to low-income elderly homeowners, gaining skills and experience along the way.
I asked if CTHS graduates typically go on to attend college. Mr. Garza said that about half go on to college to study courses such as Architecture or Project Management, but that many are ready to enter the job market directly – “they just want to go to work.”
As far as business partners such as Marek, CTHS is always looking for companies who want to invest in the future workforce. Garza said,
“We are always looking for business partners who are looking for kids who are interested in construction. … [Our kids] chose this. They filled out an application to be in my class, so that is why they are in here. It wasn’t that they were randomly picked – they chose to be in this class.”
You can hear Mr. Garza’s interview in the following 2-minute video.
In the following 5-minute bonus video, you can see some of the students as they receive instruction from the Marek volunteers, and be sure to read more about the drywall clinic and CTHS in my blog from a couple of weeks ago.