Northeast secures grant funding to work with high schoolers in construction trades
NORFOLK, Neb. – An effort that will include high school students working to help address a lack of adequate housing in the region has received a substantial financial boost.
The formation of the northeast Nebraska chapter of the Builders of the Future, coordinated by Northeast Community College, is designed to expose more high school students from Norfolk and area communities to rewarding and well-paying job opportunities in the construction trades in hopes of having them pursue a career in the field.
Shanelle Grudzinski, dean of applied technology at Northeast, said the Builders of the Future program began in the Omaha area by the Metropolitan Omaha Builders Association. The organization hired a part-time coordinator to work with industrial arts teachers at Omaha-area high schools and Metropolitan Community College. She said the program has proven very successful.
“There are more than 30 high schools now participating. The Builders of the Future program provides initial funding for a participating high school to purchase the supplies necessary to have its students build a housing-related project – a utility shed is one example or even a stand-alone garage,” Grudzinski said. “The coordinator makes visits to the high schools to help guide the teacher and students with the project. Once completed, the project is sold at a slightly below-market price in recognition that it was student construction.”
Grudzinski said the high schools keep revenue from the sale and use those funds to purchase needed supplies for the next construction project. Additionally, the Builders of the Future coordinator helps schedule field trips to construction firms that provide students with opportunities to see work being done. Those same firms serve as additional mentors.
Interest in starting a chapter in northeast Nebraska began after three high schools – Norfolk Senior High, Battle Creek and Pierce – reached out to the Builders of the Future coordinator in Omaha. Since it would not be feasible for the coordinator to work with schools located over 100 miles away, conversations began on forming a local chapter. The discussions took place at the same time NIFA and the Nebraska Community Foundation were focusing on solutions to address the state’s housing shortage.
NIFA ultimately chose to work with three community colleges – Northeast being one of them – in a pilot program in which NIFA would supply some funding if the community colleges presented an idea of how to increase student interest in the construction trades. It’s based on data that many of the young men and women who pursue an associate degree would ultimately remain living and working in their hometown area.
Funding from NIFA, the Johnny Carson Foundation, the Rudolph Elis Fund and Norfolk Area Community Foundation Fund will be used to launch the northeast Nebraska chapter and provide funding opportunities for students.
“Northeast Community College’s concept is to create a full-time position to serve two purposes: Serve as the coordinator of an area chapter of Builders of the Future and also be able to teach construction classes as needed at the College in order to increase capacity and enrollment,” said Dr. Tracy Kruse, vice president of development and external affairs at Northeast Community College. “In addition to the three high schools already participating, administrators from Wisner-Pilger, West Point-Beemer and Wakefield high schools also have indicated their desire to participate in Builders of the Future.”
Kruse said Northeast will also provide scholarships to students involved in Builders of the Future who want to seek a degree in the construction trades such as building construction, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and electrical, among others. Northeast has also been working with the Norfolk Area Home Builders Association to have its members serve as mentors for the participating high school teachers and students. Those same companies will be asked to donate construction supplies to the participating high schools.
Northeast Community College will begin working with the high schools beginning this fall. Kruse said the project addresses more than just housing; it is a workforce development initiative that will benefit the entire region.
“One of the demonstrated successes of community colleges, including Northeast, is that a high percentage of students and graduates remain in the area upon graduating and finding employment in their career field. That translates into more men and women available to work for Norfolk and area construction companies – or even eventually begin their own firm. That further translates into increased capacity for building single-family homes and apartments and duplexes to help address housing shortages in this corner of the state.”