Much of New Bern was still sleeping on a recent Saturday morning in November, but the construction site tucked away on Third Avenue was buzzing with people hammering nails, securing scaffolding and carrying plywood. When completed, the site will host Habitat for Humanity of Craven County’s 63rd home, but these types of projects are not about focusing on achievements from the past … they are about the future. This site marks the future home of the Way family and the first step in developing real, on-the-job experience for construction students at Craven Community College (Craven CC).
“This is our first site project off campus and the students in this Construction I class are really enthused about it,” said Kevin Rideout, Craven CC construction instructor. “We want to help. We’re wanting to work with the community with our classes to get involved with Habitat for Humanity.”
Craven CC’s Construction 1 program provides students with a basic introduction to all types of construction. While in the classroom, students learn about framing houses, metal buildings, working with all types of hand tools and stationary tools, understanding wood types—hard woods and soft woods—and safety. The classes provide an extensive level of hands-on experience, but Craven CC’s instructors wanted to ensure that students had experience on actual construction sites as well.
Hoping to connect the classroom with practical experience, Craven CC’s construction program found a perfect fit with Habitat for Humanity.
“We welcome the opportunity that the college is stepping up to be part of this process,” said Greg Musgrave, Habitat for Humanity of Craven County construction supervisor.
The burgeoning relationship between Habitat and Craven CC offers benefits on both sides. Craven CC students are developing hands-on skills, while Habitat is gaining more volunteers to support its workforce and ambitious project schedule to complete the five homes that are already in the pipeline.
“It takes a lot of volunteers and this will increase the production,” said Musgrave. “Right now, we have a core group of volunteers designated as the die-hards, and they are the backbone. But some of the die-hards are getting in their 60s and some in their 70s, and we have one in the 80s right now. So, we appreciate very much that we can work with the college and it’s a good learning experience for the students.
Musgrave, who spent 40 years in the construction industry before retiring to do volunteer work for Habitat, claims he can’t move around the construction site with the same speed as he used to. Nonetheless, he could be found at the Way house confidently walking between roof beams and giving instructions to the construction team below.
“Where I started was where they’re starting right now,” said Musgrave. “Pounding nails. That’s all I did probably for the first couple of years, but you learn that process.
Construction student Maria Baughman got first-hand knowledge while working at the Way house. Nearing the end of the Construction 1 class, she got her fair share of time pounding nails into joist hangers as she stood atop a ladder on the northwest corner of the house.
“They teach you everything you could possibly know in the book, but sometimes you have to see it too,” said Baughman. “So (Rideout) found a video of Larry Haun building a house from start to finish. He used all the same terminology that we learned in the book, so it helped us make those connections between what we were reading and now what we were seeing.”
The classroom and virtual construction project developed connections for the students, but the class was still missing opportunities to work on an actual construction project. In fact, students who wanted to shadow construction workers at other sites were finding it difficult to gain that access as well.
“There are so many places that I’ve called that don’t want apprentices,” said Baughman. “You have to train people to continue the trade. So I don’t understand why nobody would even let me shadow them, but if this is my experience for that and this is my opportunity to shadow people, I’m going to take it.”
Formerly working in retail, Baughman’s interest in the construction industry was galvanized when the company filed for bankruptcy.
“I was like, ‘what am I doing with my life?’” she said. “I wanted to move into architecture, but I wanted to have the carpentry experience first. A lot of people go into architecture without actually building something and it’s difficult for them to know what they’re putting onto paper.”
Many students entering the Craven CC construction program have varying goals that may not be specifically targeted on the construction industry. Some are interested in flipping houses, others want to learn how to work on their own houses and a few simply enjoy working with wood. In either case, according to Rideout, the construction industry is in desperate need of new workers.
“We know that this type of on-hand skill is diminishing from our labor force, and right now, for every five construction workers that retire, there isn’t but one to replace him,” he said. “It’s a hurting industry and we want to train these people and these individuals in this industry. The income can be really good. It can be very good in this industry now. We know there’s a need for these workers and they’re willing to pay them a very decent salary.”
The connection between classroom and jobsite plays a key role in preparing students who are interested in joining the construction industry. Projects like the Way house provide hours of practical experience, as well as safety training.
“When you jump on top of a roof, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could be dangerous,” said Rideout. “So the on-jobsite skill and work is very important. It gives you a great appreciation for the work, and it gives you a knowledge and skill for the work. And we all know on-the-job training makes you a better worker and helps you understand the tasks that you’re doing. Habitat for Humanity is very strict on their safety, so that’s very important to us and the college.”
In addition to the classroom experience offered at Craven CC and the on-site experience now available through Habitat, students who complete the program receive a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certification that gives them an added edge in the job market. This program allows the students to log classroom hours and jobsite hours into that program. These hours are then compiled and credited toward those students becoming master carpenters or receiving a journeyman’s license.
Rideout’s Construction 1 class was the first to experience the link between Craven CC’s classroom work and Habitat’s construction class, but it won’t be the last. Construction I and II classes will begin in January, giving students an opportunity to spend even more time experiencing the process of building a home, while also giving back to the community.
Construction 1 and 2 classes begin January 2018. For more information about the program, contact Eddie Foster, Executive Director of Environmental Safety and Corporate Training, at (252)638-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information available at www.cravencc.edu/wfd