‘Unlimited’ worker demand fuels Construction Combine

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  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/Press Kaleb Gearhart, left, and Colton Isom, both Post Falls High School students, help make a roof for a shed Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. Students from Coeur d’ Alene, Post Falls, Wallace and Lakeland school districts got the opportunity to learn from local professionals about plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing, concrete, drywall, siding and masonry trades. The shed structures the students made will benefit veterans.

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    Lake City High School sophomore Nathan Briggs makes a chimney during the Construction Combine event Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus.

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    Lake City High School junior Cody Benner finishes a board of drywall during Thursday's Construction Combine event at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Post Falls High School student Robert Torgerson, left, and Lakeland High School student Jake Durell cut two-by-fours during the Construction Combine event Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Timberlake High student Ashton Berscheid, left, works alongside Travis Holmes of Gryphon Masonry in Athol during Thursday's Construction Combine at the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum. The event gave students hands-on experience in the construction trades and contractors prospects for employees in a high-demand industry. (BRIAN WALKER/Press)

  • Photos by LOREN BENOIT/Press Kaleb Gearhart, left, and Colton Isom, both Post Falls High School students, help make a roof for a shed Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. Students from Coeur d’ Alene, Post Falls, Wallace and Lakeland school districts got the opportunity to learn from local professionals about plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing, concrete, drywall, siding and masonry trades. The shed structures the students made will benefit veterans.

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    Lake City High School sophomore Nathan Briggs makes a chimney during the Construction Combine event Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus.

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    Lake City High School junior Cody Benner finishes a board of drywall during Thursday's Construction Combine event at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Post Falls High School student Robert Torgerson, left, and Lakeland High School student Jake Durell cut two-by-fours during the Construction Combine event Thursday at Kootenai Technical Education Campus. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Timberlake High student Ashton Berscheid, left, works alongside Travis Holmes of Gryphon Masonry in Athol during Thursday's Construction Combine at the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum. The event gave students hands-on experience in the construction trades and contractors prospects for employees in a high-demand industry. (BRIAN WALKER/Press)

RATHDRUM — What Rosie Gray helped construct on Thursday was more than a chimney demonstration using masonry techniques.

The Venture High School student was working on a building block toward her future.

Gray was among more than 30 area high school students who participated in the first Construction Combine, a collaboration between building contractors, school districts and Home Depot that gives students hands-on experience and employers prospects in a high-demand industry.

"I'm a hands-on person," Gray said with a smile while taking a break from the masonry station at the event, which ends today at the Kootenai Technical Education Campus (KTEC). "Last year my family and I helped my grandma build her house."

Students also worked with contractors in flooring, drywall, plumbing, concrete, framing, roofing and electrical stations. Some of the students could be offered summer or post-graduation jobs by those employers as early as today.

"(A job) is in the back of my head and it would be nice, but I'm trying not to keep my hopes up," said Timberlake High's Ashton Berscheid. "It's just nice to get all the training and work with people I've never met before."

Berscheid said he hopes to land a construction job for the summer.

"It's good money and a lot of my family have done it," he said.

Eight sheds being constructed at the event will be donated today to local veterans in need through the Newby-Ginnings nonprofit.

The Construction Combine is inspired by the NFL Combine, in which players show their skills in front of coaching staffs. Materials for the Construction Combine were purchased with a $10,000 grant through Home Depot.

"It's a great way to expose kids to the construction trade and network with contractors," said Jeff Voeller, director of operations for the Coeur d'Alene School District.

Leslie Streeter, executive officer with the North Idaho Building Contractors Association, said the demand for construction workers hasn't tapered. In fact, it isn't expected to let up for the foreseeable future. Contractors need workers even if the prospects don't have much experience.

"The construction trade in this area has outgrown its workforce," Streeter said. "You can teach a student and move them into a job — whether it's for college money or a career. There's been no slowdown whatsoever in construction. Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.

"There's unlimited demand for employees in the construction trade."

Travis Holmes, owner of Gryphon Masonry in Athol, was among the contractors who was keeping an eye out for employee prospects.

"There's certainly opportunities out there," he said. "We really need to be doing this. The nice thing is that these kids are showing some interest to start out with."

The event stems from a similar event that started at Idaho State University in Pocatello last year. Such combines are being held across the state this year.

Scott Stephens, an ISU business consultant, was among those from the institution who lent a helping hand with the launch of the event at KTEC and brought some equipment.

Stephens said the idea originated with helping students simply learn basic tools, but blossomed into hands-on stations involving contractors who are hungry for promising employees and doing something good for those in need in the community.

"We thought, 'What if we did it by trade instead of just tools?'" he said, adding that other agencies such as the Idaho Department of Labor and contractor groups also jumped on board.

"Originally we thought about just going to Probation and Parole (to find possible employees) because the unemployment is so low, but the school districts have really gotten involved."

Lake City High student Dominic Wiener said finishing construction projects gives him motivation.

"You get to take something like rocks and turn them into something else," he said.

Venture High's Sebastian Kirby said he's thankful for the opportunity to learn about the trades.

"I've worked in fast-foot restaurants, so this is a lot better than just standing in one spot," he said. "It's also decent money to help pay for your car."

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