Building the Future

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Do you remember high school?

June 21, 2000

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

Do you remember high school? Not the American picture of high school -- pep rallies, football games, dances, etc. -- but the real thing. The everyday highs and lows of being "in" and of being left out. The sheer joy and utter despair brought on by every small success and every huge failure. The heaven and hell of being a teenager with absolutely everything in front of you and absolutely no idea how to articulate or attain your dreams. And ultimately, the blow-your-mind realization that it is up to you alone to build a future.

Those years were a long time ago for me, but the memories of that journey from child to adult are still strong, and my guess is they always will be. I remember how in a graduating class of nearly a thousand kids everybody was pegged -- by the teachers and by each other. We knew who would attend a four-year university or a community college. We knew who might make it in the military, as well as those who had no other choice but to get a job. This was the supreme pecking order -- the one that surpassed all others -- and "a job" was at the bottom.

A lot has changed since the 1970s and my time in high school, or maybe too much has stayed the same. Walk the halls of high schools today and the pecking order will be unchanged. Yes, a different group may be on top from one town to the next, but those at the bottom will be the same -- the students for whom college isn't an option and book learning isn't fun or easy.

In my day these were the kids counselors pointed to industrial arts classes and work-study programs. The thinking was, "let's at least graduate them with some skills." For too many kids in too many schools this isn't an option anymore. Vocational education in almost every form has been whittled away or cut out of the general curriculum in American high schools. For a time the thinking was to concentrate these classes and the interested kids in separate schools, yet many of these have been shuttered in recent years.

There was no public outcry as classes were cut and vo-tech schools were closed. After all, who wanted to be the first to say, "Keep this teaching. I don't want my kid going to college. I want him or her to be a carpenter, welder, mason, mechanic, etc." It wasn't and still isn't an acceptable thing to wish for a child.

That these jobs are what some kids want to be -- wish to be -- is more difficult because there are few places they can learn the necessary skills or practice the craft. For too many of them -- and too many of you -- on-the-job training is the only choice. The good news is this is starting to change. As an industry, we're moving beyond whining about the labor shortage and starting to take steps to correct the situation. Home builders and educators work together in a handful of high schools to provide interested kids the in-the-classroom and on-the-job experience that gives them a leg up at graduation time.

I applaud the efforts of the handful of home building companies who support and sustain this type of training, though I know this isn't an option for every builder or in every market. "Then what," you wonder? "What are the choices?" There are two, and each deserves your time commitment and financial support.

Job Corps is the only national residential job training program, and it is a top source of entry level workers in the industry. Job Corps identifies at-risk youths age 16 to 24 and provides the training and resources to offer them a different vision of their future. Each year 3000+ kids graduate Job Corps and begin construction industry careers.

SkillsUSA-VICA serves 250,000 college and high school students enrolled in various training programs. This month the organization will hold its first Team Build USA competition as a part of its national championships. There, students will have to work together in teams to estimate, schedule, build and present a demonstration project.

The kids in these programs are excited about this industry and the opportunities it holds, but they could use your help and guidance to build the future -- theirs and yours.

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