WILMINGTON — Industry analysts say that the building and construction industry is back. And because of that trend, so is the Construction Technologies Program at the Laurel Oaks Career Campus.
The program was discontinued a few years ago because of a lack of enrollment. The Clinton, Fayette and Highland County region, home to the 10 feeder schools for the program, was Ground Zero for the recession and the downturn in construction activity. A large number of area residents were among the 8,000+ who lost jobs when Laurel Oaks’ former neighbor, DHL Express, ended its domestic shipping operations at the Wilmington Air Park.
“The construction industry is making a comeback,” said program instructor Joseph Jones, himself an indirect victim of the recession. Jones formerly taught the same program at Laurel Oaks’ sister school, Diamond Oaks, on the west side of Cincinnati. He lost that job due to seniority to the former Laurel Oaks instructor when the program was shuttered.
But Jones, who graduated from Diamond Oaks, is living proof that a 30-year career in construction can offer flexibility and options when confronted with a job loss. He went into business for himself, “doing bathroom and basement remodels” and other renovation and repair work.
He enjoyed teaching, though, and jumped at the opportunity to re-start a program at Laurel Oaks because he believes it will be around for a while now that the economy is rebounding.
“When we had a slowdown, a lot of younger carpenters had to move to a different career field,” Jones said. “Now some of the older guys are starting to retire or are no longer in the field so there is kind of a gap in a lot of areas for entry level employees to move up.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) assumes that the economy will fully recover from the recession by 2020, and that the labor force will return to full employment, or an unemployment rate between 4-5 percent. As housing recovers, construction will add 1.8 million jobs, according to the BLS.
The Laurel Oaks program prepares skilled professionals for careers involving construction, plumbing and electricity. Students are taught how to master a wide range of hand tools and power tools, how to read blue prints and construction plans and how to work with a skilled team to produce quality products.
On the way to becoming a top-notch construction carpenter, plumber or electrician, students can earn industry certificates that immediately improve their earning potential.
Like Jones, Tim Boler, owner of Tim Boler Construction in Lynchburg, has seen the construction field change over the last few decades and thinks some of the soft skills Laurel Oaks students learn are just as important as operating the tools of the trade.
There is still good career potential for those who “don’t mind getting dirty and doing some physical work,” he said, but good communication and social skills are a must in order to work productively with others or even supervise others if a leadership opportunity in construction or a related field comes calling.
“They need to be creative, have an imagination, have an understanding of how things look,” Boler said. “And like everything else, things have evolved because of the computer and other technology. There weren’t even nail guns when I started. Now there are CAD (computer-aided design) systems and a lot more detail required.
“When I started, plans were drawn by hand. Some counties will still let you use a sketch to get a permit, but most want a computer drawing.”
Since this is the re-birth of his two-year program, Jones only has juniors this year — a bit early for most to have settled on a career path. He says several students are considering futures in residential or commercial construction and careers in the military while at least one student wants to be an accountant, all plans that are subject to change when they move into the second year of the program in 2016-17.
Great Oaks, which specializes in career development and technical training for high school students and adults in southwest Ohio, has campuses in Wilmington (Laurel Oaks), Sharonville (Scarlet Oaks), Dent (Diamond Oaks) and Milford (Live Oaks).
Great Oaks offers the chance for high school students to prepare for careers and college and for adults to get training and certification to begin a new career or advance in a current career.
Student applications are being accepted now for all programs at Great Oaks Career Campuses in the 2015-16 school year. For more information or to apply for any program, go to www.greatoaks.com.