New Training Program for Construction Workers Starts Fall 2009

When bad news in the job market seems to be the rule, rather than the exception, Lone Star College- North Harris has just announced a unique program that will train entry level workers for an industry desperate to find more employees.

Craig Coleman, program manager for continuing education and workforce at LSC-North Harris, said a number of commercial construction trade industries in Houston have approached the college to partner in developing a new program to train entry-level workers.

"We're taking applications for the program and plan to begin the first classes on Aug. 24 he said, adding classes will be limited to 16 students.

"These are five-week courses," Coleman continued, "and will provide 80 hours of training. Those students completing the courses will have an opportunity to interview with our partner companies for immediate jobs in the construction trades.

The first five-week course will train students in sheet metal Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning duct  work, Coleman said. "The second will train students in a five-week commercial drywall course."

Employers approached LSC-North Harris initially and indicated they were having problems finding qualified people with basic skills. These new and unique five-week training courses were designed based on their input with the goal to provide graduates with the skills required to be hired immediately and then receive additional training from the partner construction companies.

Those companies partnering with LSC-North Harris will assist with scholarships so that each student accepted for admission into the program will get some level of funding to offset the cost of tuition. The partner companies have also committed to donate equipment and materials and will identify qualified faculty to teach in each area.

"We're excited about these new training programs because this is the first time commercial construction training has been offered in our district and because of the four levels of partnering that have developed to support the program," Coleman explained.

Those four levels include employers in the construction trades, who have agreed to fund scholarships, donate equipment, identify qualified teachers and recruit students completing the program. Aldine Independent School District is providing their training facilities  at Hall High School for the evening classes. In return, up to six Aldine students will be accepted into the program through teacher/counselor recommendations and will receive scholarships to cover a portion of the tuition.

Lone Star College-North Harris is coordinating the effort through its continuing education program, so students interested in applying for the program should go to the Continuing Education Building, adjacent to the tennis courts on the LSC-North Harris campus at 2700 W.W. Thorne Dr.

The WorkSource, the fourth level of partnership, will provide vouchers for students accepted into the program to purchase up to $200 in personal tools they are required to obtain prior to starting the courses.

"Another aspect of the program's uniqueness is that commercial construction trade training is usually not available in high schools," Coleman said. "Construction trade training in high schools tends to focus on residential construction."

Because the skills for residential construction are not the same as those for commercial construction, the new training program will meet the unique needs of the commercial construction industry. "I met with almost one dozen partners yesterday," Coleman said, "and they explained that while the economic downturn has certainly impacted the residential construction industry, those workers do not have the basic skills needed to be hired into commercial construction. If an individual has worked in residential construction, this training could  be a good next step in his or her career."

The classes will meet four hours a night, four nights a week for five weeks. Sheet Metal-HVAC will be the first course offered when the program begins Aug. 24. Commercial Drywall classes begin five weeks later. Students completing either course will then be certified for entry-level commercial construction jobs in that trade.

Students accepted into the program will be required to submit to a background check, drug testing and must provide proof of eligibility to work in the U.S.- because students may be hired immediately after completing the program, Coleman said.

Jose Palacios, workforce development officer for MEMCO, a subsidiary of Marek Brothers, a construction company with offices in Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, said more employees are needed who are specialized in a variety of construction trade skills.

"Most  job candidates we speak with don't have the specific skills required for the commercial construction industry," he said "That's why we're starting a certification program at Lone Star College-North Harris. Usually, this training takes two years, so we're fast-tracking this program such  that graduates of the program  can go to work and then continue their training once employed."

Palacios said when he goes to job fairs around the Greater Houston area, he finds many people, saying they need a job. "However, they don't have the skills-and probably don't realize you have to have certain skills before you ever set foot on the job site," he explained.

"Right now, even with the current recession, all the layoffs and the high unemployment rate, I have up to three skills that need people and we cannot find enough people with skills to fill these jobs," Palacios said..."and we're not the only company with this problem. There are many companies in Houston who currently can't find enough people with these entry-level skills.

"Here's the amazing part: Houston is a city that runs on air conditioning and HVAC is one of the construction trades that needs people most-not just at our company but companies across the Greater Houston area," he added.

"This unique training program is growing and evolving," Palacios pointed out.  We're dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's before we begin so our students will have the advantage."

He said once students get into the commercial arena, they'll have the opportunity to learn skills and then become entrepreneurs. They can start their own companies or move into supervision and management if they want to go in that direction," Palacios said. "However, you need the discipline to learn, the commitment to see the job from start to finish, and the desire to excel. If you don't have the initial desire to learn the craft at the beginning, you won't be successful." 

"Industry is in desperate need of people with these entry-level skills," Coleman said. "The key is to be a willing participant, to take responsibility to thoroughly learn the trade and to understand the job, start to finish."

"We're looking for people who take pride in their skills and craftsmanship," Palacios pointed out. "We're looking for people who can take the ball and run with it. Here's the other thing: a lot of today's young people don't want jobs where they sit in offices or call centers all day. This is their opportunity to lay the foundation for a well-paying career."

For more information, go to the continuing education office at Lone Star College-North Harris for an application packet or call 281.260.3157 or e-mail craig.j.coleman@lonestar.edu.

Lone Star College-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: NorthHarris.LoneStar.edu.

Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.

###

C.C. Sutphen
Public Relations and Special Events Director
Lone Star College-North Harris
2700 W.W. Thorne Drive
Houston, TX 77073
281.618.5425
281.618.7105 fax