CTE brings back building trades program to help fill gap in labor force

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 4:18 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2022 at 7:03 PM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont needs folks ready and capable of building homes. So the Center for Technology Essex relaunched a program to help fill in the growing gap in the labor force.

It’s the building systems program that covers HVAC, plumbing and electrical, things the state has continued to make known we need.

Folks at CTE say even though we are only a few weeks into the year, the restart of this program is going smoothly.

“Right now we are going over some framing to build a platform for our big project for the whole year,” said Elijah Fisher, a member of the CTE Class of 2024.

Fisher wasn’t the biggest fan of traditional schooling, but since joining the building systems program at CTE, things have changed.

“It’s always exciting getting up and getting ready and then knowing, ‘Cool, I’m going to go in, such and such is going to happen and a lot more is going to get accomplished,’” he said.

Fisher sees a career for himself somewhere in the trades but still has time before he needs to decide.

CTE Teacher Clifton Long says students like Fisher are in a great spot.

“Students will have an opportunity for some career exploration and see what they like best,” Long said.

Long teaches the mechanical building systems program. Students learn HVAC skills, electrical and plumbing-- three areas where Vermont needs skilled laborers.

“We have a golden opportunity right now for students,” Long said.

He says the current workforce occupying these fields is aging out, leaving open jobs across the state with starting pay of around $40,000 a year, jobs he is committed to filling by getting students trained and certified.

“The career opportunities are also wide open for these students,” Long said.

“It’s in direct response to the aging work population in Vermont,” CTE Principal Bob Travers said.

Travers says they lost a year because the previous instructor retired, and finding qualified instructors with the time to teach isn’t easy. With Long joining them, they are back in business. But can they fill the classes?

“For us, we know word of mouth is the way to go. Students that have good experiences will tell other students,” Travers said.

And the proof is on paper, Travers says interest in the program was high when they announced it was coming back. They started small, kicking off the year with 15 students enrolled in the program but plan to grow, especially as students like Jeremy Sowles come back successful.

“I guess I don’t have to figure out what I want to do anymore,” said Sowles, a member of the CTE Class of 2023.

Sowles splits time-- some days in school, some days working professionally with an electrician. He says he’s excited to strictly be a professional. Because of the path he chose, he feels like he won’t just be doing a job.

“Like you’re doing something productive, not that other careers aren’t productive or important, but you’re kind of helping to fill a need,” Sowles said.

Another program CTE offers is aimed at helping adult Vermonters get started down a new career path.

HVAC is the focus of the program, and the idea is to help folks looking for something new or to get a new certification.

This HVAC program is the only adult certification program in the state that CTE is aware of.

They have a wide array of people they are working with, from former nurses, former bakers and even folks already in the field looking to get certified.

It runs on nights and weekends for convenience to the students and costs $3,400.

The school says the job is rewarding and Vermont needs HVAC technicians, so landing a job at the end of the program is almost a given.

“Every year I just send emails to our partners and say we have two or three people that are looking for jobs and those people get interviews immediately,” said Joe Teegarden of CTE.

Teegarden says they have been fully enrolled for five years now and to him, that means they are doing something right.

Teegarden says one demographic they are still trying to reach is women. That’s something he is focused on now.

The future of tech ed in Vermont isn’t set in stone. Friday, state leaders, educators and others will meet in Essex to talk about the future of tech ed in Vermont. Students will also have the chance to speak about what they want and need going forward when shaping the curriculum.