Demand for skilled trades workers is growing in the United States. Industries specializing in mechanics, welders, plumbers, construction workers and utilities are looking for skilled trades workers. Where to find the answer to the growing need for skilled trades workers? Manistique Area High School’s dynamic building trades program might be the best place to start.
Kevin Brown, building trades instructor of the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District (DSISD) at Manistique Area High School, is passionate about teaching students hands-on building skills that will equip for the future, whether students embark on a career in trades or further their education in college.
With over a decade of experience in high school trades instruction, Brown moved to Manistique six years ago to fill the building instructor position at the 230-student high school. Brown’s experience, combined with the rich history of trades classes at the school, created the perfect opportunity for the program to thrive. The program is now at a maximum enrollment capacity, with over 70 students enrolled in building trades courses.
Three classes are offered each day – Introduction to Construction, Building Trades 1 and Building Trades 2. Students enter the trades program their sophomore year with the one-hour introductory class and move on to the two-hour building trades classes their junior and senior year. All classes are taught by Brown and assistant to the trades program, Randy Watchorn.
“We are open to all students and skill levels,” describes Brown. “We offer a wide variety of instruction – from learning to read a tape measure to constructing an entire deer blind.”
Classes are offered to all Manistique High School students and Brown is excited that nearly 20 percent of building trade class enrollment is made up of female students. As the program continues to grow, Brown hopes more female students will enroll in building trades classes.
“There are great future employment opportunities for females interested in trades,” describes Brown.
From the design of the building trades workshop to the style of instruction, the program focuses on hands-on learning. Materials are organized in giant wooden bins. Wood and supply materials are stacked awaiting the next student project. In the far corner of the workshop, one of ten custom-built deer blinds awaits pick-up by Linda’s Bread Box and Sporting Goods Store. For one to two hours a day, students enter Brown’s workshop and learn a skill that focuses their talents beyond the brick walls of a traditional classroom.
Known as the go-to for building construction projects in the community, students have completed work for local businesses, non-profit organizations and churches. This past year, students completed projects for Habitat for Humanity, Lake Effects Art Gallery, Manistique’s youth football and baseball programs and local businesses.
Each project is custom built to fit a need in the Manistique community. The community partner covers the cost of building materials and labor is supplied by the building construction students. Any profits from project sales directly benefit the future projects and materials for the building trades program.
A common partner with the building trades program is Manistique’s Habitat for Humanity. When available, Habitat for Humanity supplies a home in need of a complete gut renovation. Under Brown’s instruction, students go to the home location to put their construction skills to work.
Performing everything from interior demolition, drywall installation, trim completion and kitchen remodeling – students participate in every part of the home renovation. The renovation project gives students a great lesson in the cost of materials, permits and licensing. In addition, students have the opportunity for valuable on-site job shadowing with local electrician and plumbing contractors.
“It’s an educational opportunity that allows students to put their building construction education to work in the real world,” Brown explains.
Success of the renovation project is evident through the increase of students’ confidence in skill level and construction abilities. Once the home remodel is complete, students see their hard work pay off. The remodeled home is sold by Habitat for Humanity for a family in need in the Manistique community. Students gain valuable real-world skills while making an impact on their community.
In addition to community projects, students can work on personal building construction projects. Brown gauges skill level and student ability to help students design and construct personal projects. Project creation ranges from hand-crafted wooden cutting boards to custom-designed side tables. Personal projects allow students to showcase their individual level of skills gained through the building trades courses.
“My students are focused, committed and diligent,” describes Brown.
Students who complete all building trades courses are well equipped for the future. Whether pursuing a career in trades or furthering their education in college - skills taught through the building trades program have prepared students for success. While construction skills taught are fundamental to students’ skill set, arguably the most important lesson is the passion and purpose displayed through Brown’s dedication to his students and the building trades program.
By: Abby Bell