Spring break program gives construction students an edge

Photo/Michael Dinneen/For the Journal

There is no beach trip for 19-year-old DeAnna Amox this spring break. She has something else on her mind: beating the boys at the carpentry game.

Amox, a senior at Bartlett High School, is one of 20 students from the Anchorage School District spending their entire break learning the trades as part of a cooperative effort called the Spring Construction Institute. These students — all in the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Senior Job Club — work with trained personnel in both classrooms and hands-on practice to develop skills in carpentry, electrical wiring, weatherization and more.

“I like it. It’s fun,” Amox said. “Probably a lot of kids my age think it’s crazy but I’m used to going to school every day anyway so why not do this and get something out of it?”

The students there intend to get some valuable training and perhaps a job boost out of it. Shaydi Dejesus, career guide with Labor Department’s Youth Job Center, said the students get an advantage in developing advanced skills and at no cost to them. She said these skills only add to the training they get at school programs like King Career Center and allows them to become more well-rounded trades workers and pursue employment in these high-growth fields.

“These are the next generation of workforce leaders,” she said.

While there, students can earn general training certification. This is one of five certification opportunities for Senior Job Club members.

The students are all juniors or seniors in the Anchorage School District. The spring break course is careful not to duplicate training they’ve already received.

The course is voluntary but it’s no cakewalk. It’s structured to be like a job site and those teens are giving up a lot on their spring break, as are the instructors. Classes run 8 a.m. to around 5 p.m. with only 30 minutes for lunch, just like on the job. These days ran from March 9 though March 17 with only a Sunday off.

They must pass tests through both practical work and on paper, as well as going through classes and safety procedures.

James Elam, who teaches plumbing and electricity at King Career Center, said there is a great deal of math involved in the trades. They must demonstrate applied knowledge of the fractions, geometry, algebra, angles and decibels needed on a job site.

“There’s a lot more to it than just pounding nails,” he said.

It’s Alaska Works Partnership personnel that do the training. A school district representative is on hand plus a Labor Department representative to help with the job readiness aspect. This is where Dejesus comes in. The Youth Job Center helps them develop resumes and career plans, particularly with a hiring event in April for the Senior Job Club members. There will be 75 employers there.

“They generally have nearly a 100 percent hire rate,” Dejesus said.

Dejesus said there are 125 Anchorage students in the Senior Job Club. Those students comprise the pool of candidates for the spring break institute and the job fair.

“Once they leave, we have good grasp of their personalities and how to get them into those positions,” she said.

Elam said the students here are very motivated because they know what they want to do. He said they might not choose college but want to enter trades to be productive members of society. He said becoming a skilled tradesman requires a high level of knowledge in and of itself and many will also do apprenticeships. The best way many of them learn is through that hands-on practice.

“These are good kids,” Elam said. “Even if they don’t have the best grades, with a tool in their hands, they will outshine the valedictorian every day of the week. For the most part, these guys are very motivated so their skill level improves very quickly.”

The Spring Construction Institute is a collaborative effort by the Labor Department’s Youth Job Center, Construction Education Foundation and Alaska Works Partnership. It’s also coordinated in part by Anchorage School District.

The funding starts at the state department and works its way to subcontract the Alaska Works Partnership to provide the free training. That zero price tag is more than welcomed by high school students.

Amox is still deciding on what direction she’ll pursue for her future but said she knows that if she can get into carpentry if she wants to since she’s “taking the right classes.”

Liridon Papraniku, 18, knows that he wants to pursue electrical work and wanted to use spring break to broaden his tradesman skill set through carpentry. The Dimond High School senior has been interested in electrical work most of his life and wants to give himself a leg-up in getting a job.

“My main focus is electrical work but I’m trying to get as much knowledge in carpentry as possible,” he said.

He said he’s learned a lot from the class and that the instructors there take time to make sure everyone gets it right.

Papraniku intends to try to get into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or perhaps go to the Alaska Vocational and Technical Education Center.

Papraniku and Amox both take carpentry classes at King Career Center.

For Amox, the competitive challenge of the program makes it all that much more worthwhile. She’s one of only two females in the class and loves showing the guys that she can do the work as well as they can. She said carpentry is a male-dominated profession and many tend to assume that females doing this work need help but she likes to show that she can actually do it better.

The department also holds mini-institutions during the year for other certifications like forklift safety, builders levels and lasers and North Slop training. Amox has been to the North Slope lesson and is thinking about doing others.

Dejesus said the program started in 2006 as the Summer Construction Institute and was moved to spring break in 2008.

Updated: 
11/07/2016 - 3:24pm

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