Students in Seymour High School’s new and improved construction trades program do more than learn how to build. They actually get to build, even during a pandemic.
Currently, the class is finishing an off-site job building a 12-by-16-foot wood frame storage shed for a local resident. It’s just one of several experiences that makes the program a unique opportunity for students interested in trying out jobs in the construction business.
Jerrell Hubbard, who is in his first year leading the program, said the shed should be completed by Christmas break.
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“My students have done everything from the ground up,” he said. “It has been very enjoyable to see the students engage in the project and see that they really do enjoy the hands-on experience.”
Sophomore Treyton McCormick said the shed has been his favorite project in the class so far.
“I like working on hands-on projects because it gets us used to future jobs,” he said.
He enrolled in the program at the advice of his father.
“My dad said it would be a good trade to go into for college,” McCormick said.
One of the skills he has learned is how to properly install walls, which will come in handy later on in life.
“This skill will help me in the future because I plan on building my own house one day,” he said.
McCormick is glad to have the opportunity to take construction trades while in high school and appreciates that it is valued as much as traditional academic courses.
“It’s an important program for SHS to offer because it teaches us responsibility, and it shows kids what future jobs are like,” he said.
Vocational trades, including building and construction, were all but eliminated from school curriculum in the early 2000s.
“Seymour High School has made a strong effort to bring it back to the level it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Hubbard said.
The need for skilled labor in the construction industry is at an all-time high, and students with skills and training can land good-paying jobs after they graduate, he added.
Having worked at Goecker Building Supplies for 34 years, Hubbard said he has dealt with a lot of contractors, and they all are concerned with the declining workforce.
“The biggest concern that everyone has had over the last 10 to 15 years is a lack of people to employ,” he said. “It seems that no younger people were getting into the field or were even interested. I heard it from contractors, electricians, plumbers, HVAC, masons and others that there is no one out there to hire.”
Hubbard is planning to change that by finding and training good students.
“I hope that I can at least get some of these students interested to want to start a career in the construction field,” he said. “I feel that if any of my students want a job after high school, they could get a job immediately.”
He already has been approached by a couple of businesses asking if he knows of any students who are graduating early and would like a job, he said.
“I have stressed to the students that college is not for everyone,” he said. “I tried to do the math with them on how much college costs for two to four years and what they would make in two to four years in the workforce.”
His goal this year is to get six or more students a summer job with an employer in town.
“This is the best training any of them can have,” he said. “Hands-on experience is irreplaceable.”
Seeing the benefit of the SHS construction trades program, two Seymour businesses have stepped up to support it with recent donations of equipment.
Last month, the school board accepted nearly $1,900 worth of donated equipment for the program, including circular saws, reciprocating saws, drills, an angle nailer and other supplies from Royalty Companies and Ace Hardware.
Royalty also has allowed students to work on jobsites, including framing a bathroom in a new warehouse facility in the Eastside Industrial Park and pouring concrete at West Towne Plaza.
“Small projects like this have been very beneficial to us,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard was hired as a full-time instructor this year after the school ended its partnership with ABC Construction Academy.
“In order to get the program started in its infancy a few years ago, we partnered with ABC Construction, which is a program affiliated with Vincennes University,” said Assistant Principal Talmadge Reasoner.
ABC provided an instructor for two class periods a day, but it just wasn’t enough to meet the demand.
“The program grew to the point that we were going to need a full-time instructor, and it made more sense fiscally to find a local instructor, if at all possible,” Reasoner said.
Reasoner, along with Principal Greg Prange and Randy Fife, director of counseling services, decided they wanted to hire someone who had the skills needed to take the school’s vocational trades offerings to the next level.
It was Hubbard whose name kept coming up again and again, Reasoner said.
Hubbard was a product of the SHS construction trades program when it was known as building trades. He later attended Vincennes University for construction trades and has been in the building supply and construction business in Jackson County for more than 30 years.
“I went through the building trades program back in 1981. Harmon Thomas was the building trades teacher back then,” Hubbard said. “We built a house on Freeman Avenue my senior year.”
At that time, there were around 15 students in the class, he said.
“We went every afternoon to the jobsite and worked on the house,” he said. “The local builder, Leonard Elsner, was the sponsor of the house.”
In the future, Hubbard wants to get the program to where students could build a house again.
“For now, garages, sheds and room additions are great,” he said.
There are currently 80 students in the program with 50 total in three separate Intro to Construction classes and 30 in the Advanced Construction 1 and 2 classes.
The intro course starts at the very basics with Hubbard teaching students how to read a tape measure, how to use hand and power tools safely and knowing terms used in the construction field.
So far, students have made small birdhouses, wooden Christmas trees and sawhorses. Their classtime is divided with half spent in the classroom and the other half in the shop.
Students in Advanced Construction meet for three hours. After reviewing the basic tools, they have moved on to more advanced power tools. They also have taken several field trips to different construction sites in Seymour.
“I have been able to show them the steps that framing a house consists of,” Hubbard said. “It’s a lot better to let them actually see the project than looking at a video or textbook.”
They have taken what they were able to see and practiced laying out building sites and laying concrete block, Hubbard said.
Another field trip involved students visiting Ace Hardware and General Rubber, both in Seymour, for Milwaukee Tool Days.
“This allowed the students to see all the different tools that are associated with the construction field,” Hubbard said.
Goecker Building Supplies in Seymour also has supported the program with tools and supplies, and Hubbard hopes to make it around to other local businesses to see about future partnerships.
Reasoner said it would be impossible to find anyone better than Hubbard to teach the program.
“He has built a tremendous reputation among local contractors and has a wealth of knowledge and contacts,” Reasoner said. “On top of all that, Jerrell is just a great person.”
It wasn’t a job offer he was expecting or needed at the time, but after talking it over with his family and his employer, Hubbard decided he would give teaching a try.
He first had to become licensed as a workplace specialist in construction trades, which he did.
“I never once ever thought about becoming a teacher,” he said. “I was anticipating working for another 10 or so years at Goecker’s and then retiring. I asked my three kids what they thought, and their reaction was, ‘Dad, you will be a great teacher,’ so here I am.”
Reasoner said hiring Hubbard was the best decision the school could have made.
“The program has gained tremendous momentum, and Jerrell has proven to be a home run hire,” Reasoner said. “He has such a great personal effect that you can’t help but enjoy being around him, and I think the kids pick up on that right away. It certainly helps that he is a great tradesman and really knows his craft.”