‘A tremendous amount of opportunity’

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  • Courtesy photos North Idaho College carpentry and construction technology instructor Matt Piekarski stands outside a house being built by his students over the last school year. NIC carpentry and construction technology students apply their learning by building a new home each year. The home is then the grand prize in the Really Big Raffle, a North Idaho College Foundation fundraiser that supports student scholarships, technology and program needs across the NIC campus.

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    North Idaho College carpentry and construction technology students listen and learn on a home construction site.

  • Courtesy photos North Idaho College carpentry and construction technology instructor Matt Piekarski stands outside a house being built by his students over the last school year. NIC carpentry and construction technology students apply their learning by building a new home each year. The home is then the grand prize in the Really Big Raffle, a North Idaho College Foundation fundraiser that supports student scholarships, technology and program needs across the NIC campus.

  • 1

    North Idaho College carpentry and construction technology students listen and learn on a home construction site.

By MAUREEN DOLAN

North Idaho College

Building projects dot the landscape throughout North Idaho, signs of a robust economy bolstered by a construction boom that’s expected to continue, provided there are enough skilled tradesmen and women to keep it going.

The pinch of a construction labor shortage is already being felt by developers like Joe Frank, CEO of Greenstone, one of the largest residential and commercial builders in the region. In North Idaho, Greenstone residential communities include Montrose and North Place in Post Falls, and Coeur d’Alene Place.

“The market has expanded, but the trade base hasn’t kept up with the market,” Frank said.

The lack of skilled workers means, he said, that builders can’t meet the demand for homes.

“In this type of market, it ends up just raising prices,” Frank said. “If there were more homes, prices would be lower.”

Matt Piekarski, carpentry and construction technology instructor at North Idaho College, is keenly aware of the demand for more workers to meet the needs of the local building industry.

“I’m getting at least one call a week from someone asking, ‘Are there students who can work for us?’” Piekarski said. “They’re looking for everything from framers to finish carpenters.”

It’s not uncommon, Piekarski said, for his students to be hired while attending the program and have jobs waiting for them when they graduate.

The construction labor shortage is being driven, in part, by the continuing effects of the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. The industry was one of the hardest hit by the economic downfall.

Over the last few years, recovery has been swift and will likely remain on the upswing, but there is a caveat.

“We forecast that construction will continue to grow over the next decade, however, this comes mainly from analysis of the demand for construction workers,” said Sam Wolkenhauer, regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor. “The danger is that a shortage of workers will cause growth to flatten out, but our forecast predicts that as long as new workers can be trained, the demand (for workers) will be strong.”

There is another force at work, one that building associations and community colleges have long been trying to turn around. Some strides have been made, but both Piekarski and Frank said there remains a stigma attached to choosing a career in the trades, rather than earning a four-year degree.

Piekarsksi, who attended NIC himself, earned a carpentry certificate in 1979 and went on to earn an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, said that perception about the trades makes it challenging to attract students to NIC’s Carpentry and Construction Technology program.

But it’s not just hammers and nails.

“There’s a whole lot more thinking going on than people realize. There’s a lot of math,” he said.

Carpentry and Construction Technology students learn how to budget and estimate, Piekarski said, and how to apply geometry.

“And they can get in and out in a year, and go right to work,” he said.

NIC’s 10-month Carpentry and Construction Technology Intermediate Technical Certificate program trains students for entry into construction as a carpenter and teaches other aspects of the industry from site preparation to forming and placing concrete to insulation and interior and exterior finishing.

“And it’s a great trade to be in because it’s a life skill,” Piekarski said.

An associate of applied science in construction management is also offered for students who see themselves in management or hope to start their own businesses. Students in the first year of that two-year program are enrolled in the same courses required for the certificate program. The second year includes construction management courses, along with courses in NIC’s entrepreneurship program and additional academic requirements making it possible for graduates to continue on to a four-year university degree, if they desire.

“Many of the big builders started working in the trades themselves. They grew their businesses and now they’re influential leaders in the industry,” Frank said. “I say, any career that you choose, it takes hard work to be successful. That said, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for people going into construction today.”

For more information, contact NIC Career and Technical advising at 208-769-3448 or techadvising@nic.edu.

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