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  • Writer's pictureDon Magruder

Local Construction Academies Building Houses and Careers

The local high school construction academies in Leesburg, The Villages, Eustis, and South Lake had a banner school year for student participation, but more importantly, these young people helped build 4 homes for Habit for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. In April and May, the students turned the keys over to brand new homeowners who, if not for these programs, and Habitat for Humanity, would have never been able to own a home. The construction academies in these high schools are a true partnership between the public and private sectors, and many of these students can leave high school with a job in hand.

Six years ago, when the Leesburg Construction Academy was reinstituted, there were only about 35 students, and the program was struggling, to say the least. Thanks to the guidance of new Lake County School Superintendent, Diane Kornegay, and a commitment of the local construction industry, the Leesburg Academy received a $880,000 grant which revitalized the program. That money was not wasted. Equipment and material were purchased, and a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter was forged to give students real world experiences in building homes. Mentorship by local subcontractors and business leaders, along with eager educators, created a learning environment for students, and as a result, next year, the Leesburg Construction Academy has over 300 students signed up for the program and the school is hiring a second instructor to expand other construction scopes like CAD drawing.

Probably, the most important aspect of these construction academies has been the positive effect on the students. To work on these homes students are required to follow workplace rules and standards, and there are strict discipline guidelines for behavior. Plus, non-college-bound students who are participating in these academies are receiving the recognition for accomplishing something so meaningful, building a home for a family. The students have developed a high sense of pride for their work, and these academies are producing young men and women who have an old-school work ethic. Yes, if you meet a graduate of one of the construction academies you will be impressed with their politeness, confidence, and commitment to doing a great job.

There is one problem- most of the programs have grown so successful that many are feeling growing pains as students are learning that careers in construction and distribution can be more lucrative than those that require 4-year college degrees. As these academies end this school year and look forward to the next, they are in need of help.

First, the graduating students need jobs. If you own or operate a business in construction or distribution, seek out students who graduated the local construction academies. Many of these young people are not going to college, and they need to support themselves and their families especially in these times of higher costs.

Next, all the construction academies need more mentors from the construction industry. The sheer number of students in these programs are going to require more help from the industry. The biggest advantage in working with the construction academies as a mentor is that you get opportunities to groom future employees. Just a few hours a year devoted to mentoring these students is immensely appreciated and a catalyst to their future success.

The academies also need more projects to work on during the year. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is a great partner, but they are currently unable to provide enough homes and projects to keep this many students working. In the community, non-profits and the school board need to team up on projects that can become viable learning laboratories for students.

Finally, these programs are bearing ripe fruit, but they need more money from local districts, the state, and federal government. Fortunately, education has finally realized that America needs more skilled craftspeople and dollars are becoming more available, but concerted efforts need to be made to secure grants for these programs. Locally, this labor is desperately needed for the huge influx of construction and distribution jobs that are planned over the next five years. The success of the construction academies is directly tied to the economic growth and development of the community.

Your local high school construction academies are not just building houses, they are building successful futures for young people. There are a few times you can point to programs that are seeing this much success and collaboration in the community. Please support construction education in our high schools.

Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Show which can be seen at AroundtheHouse.TV.

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