Help Wanted: CTE reboots building trades program

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 2:36 PM EST
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - The trades industry is in desperate need of help and a local district’s tech program is taking the matter into its own hands. The Center for Technology at Essex High School is reviving a program that will get students working in the trades before they even graduate. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin visited the program to learn more.

Emily Devers and other students in CTE’s Building Residential Program are hard at work. “We’re getting our boards ready to start putting together our front porch,” Devers explained. The senior is currently building a house that will one day be someone’s actual home.

CTE Principal Bob Travers says they’re reviving a similar program this fall. “We’re doing this in response to the need indicated by our industry partners who are struggling to find enough employees,” he said. It was also a key element of Governor Phil Scott’s recent State of the State speech.

CTE will relaunch its building systems, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical programs. Travers says the industry is projecting there will be over 300 vacant jobs in these fields in the next few years. CTE has a total of 375 students enrolled in all of its programs that come from over 12 other high schools in the area.

“You can understand why there still is an unmet need,” Travers said. “We know that students can live a liveable wage and not have to pay back college tuition if they are successful in the trades.”

He says part of the problem is the way high schools measure their success in the number of students that go off to college. “To send students off to college without a real understanding of why they are there or a pathway to economic viability has become an issue,” Travers said.

Ironically, The University of Vermont feels the impact of those worker shortages and is working with CTE to find a solution. “We’ll have the opportunity to have some of our own staff do classroom demonstrations, provide opportunities for students coming to campus to get hands-on experience,” said Jennifer Greaves, UVM’s coordinator of facilities management. She says they hope this partnership will build a pipeline to grow their own workers.

“Introduce these students to high wages, great benefits, opportunities here in Vermont to stay, train on the job, and have a successful future,” said CTE’s Sarah Knight.

Travers says he guarantees a job for every student that goes through their two-year program. But the level of diversity in the trades is another hurdle the industry must jump. “It’s a tough needle to move,” Travers said.

“We have about four young women in this program -- all who love it each and every day, coming in and doing the work, who are all treated very nicely here,” Devers said.

If there is something out there you really want to do, Devers’ advice is to go for it. “Even if it’s a small smidge of hope, it’s still worth it, absolutely worth it.”

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