Constructing a career


Listening to his classmates in the Construction Technology Academy sing the program’s praises, John W. Grace, Jr., thought back to the experiences he’d had over the past several weeks – learning the basics of carpentry, plumbing, and construction – and smiled.

“My experience has been a great one,” he said later at the Academy’s “graduation” ceremony. “I can’t wait to see where this goes.”

Chances are the experience will take John and his four classmates far. All 2015 graduates of Perry Hall High School, the students have interviewed with some of the most prominent construction firms in the Baltimore County region – the interviews were part of the Academy program – and each has some promising job leads.

“This program really got our feet wet in the construction industry,” said graduate Evan L. Postlewaite. “We learned about everything, all the different aspects of construction.”

The student testimonials were music to the ears of Perry Hall Principal Andrew Last and Michelle Taylor Butt, senior vice president for education and training for the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., Baltimore Metro chapter. It was Butt and Last who collaborated to design the program and facilitate the first “pilot” graduating class. Other completers were Andrew C. Brandt and Ryan P. McFaul.

“We have been so excited about this project,” Butt says. “There’s such a shortage of skilled workers for our industry. . . . We wanted to see if we could do something to capture students in Baltimore County and introduce them to construction.”
Butt and the ABC leadership decided last fall to approach BCPS with the idea of taking an introductory course to a BCPS high school not already served by active apprenticeship programs or school-to-career construction industry programs.  Working with Alicia Fales and Valerie Brennan of the BCPS Office of Career and Technology Education, as well as the Community College of Baltimore County, Butt fashioned a program curriculum, lined up teachers, and won the support of Last, himself a former construction worker in his native England.

“I started my working life in the construction industry. . . . I later branched into house building and renovation and had my own small business (restoring old buildings) for 12 years in London and then Cambridge,” Last said. “My feeling is that there are many opportunities for young people who want to enter the workplace instead of college – if they specifically plan to learn trade skills. The school can be an environment that exposes them to such opportunities.”

Added Butt, “This was not to be the equivalent of an apprenticeship – that’s a whole year of instruction. This was an opportunity for students interested in the trades to learn a little bit about all the things that go into construction, including carpentry, electrical, and plumbing, as well as the importance of safety.”  

During the Academy’s closing ceremony recently, Carolyn Caudill, the lead instructor from Perry Hall High School, was effusive in her praise. “I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun teaching,” she said. “These five guys were truly the anchor of our program.”  

This summer, Butt has continued to work with BCPS to investigate how to duplicate the program’s success at other schools; she has visited every county high school and is looking closely at several west side schools. And if its first graduating class is any indication, the program can be an important part of a student’s transition from school to work.

“It really was an honor to take this course this summer,” said graduate Jacob Martin. “It really has opened me up to life in the work world.”

Story and photos by Charles Herndon, Specialist, BCPS Office of Family and Community Engagement
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