26 Sep Ofer Eitan Report: Building Back The Trades, One Student At A Time | Features
By Ross Boissoneau | Sept. 26, 2020
The building trades are in desperate need of more workers. Old news, right? Most people are aware that the number of workers in the trades has been declining for years, made worse when the Great Recession hit and so many skilled workers either left the state in search of work or left the field altogether.
But not long after that “bottom,” the Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area (HBAGTA) decided to take action, funding scholarships to bolster the labor pool from the ground up. It supports college scholarship programs at Northwestern Michigan College and another at any accredited college or university — both for students entering programs geared toward the building trades.
So is it working? We found a few success stories, and talked to a few recipients.
Sam Javed’s father-in-law Dan Goodchild is the coordinator and instructor for the construction and technology program at NMC, and his wife Sarah was the event coordinator at the HBAGTA. So of course he went to college to study human resources.
“I was in class and just decided, ‘This is not for me.’ I realized I loved carpentry and could make it a career,” he said.
Javed said a presentation at the HBAGTA Scholarship Dinner he attended with his wife made a huge impression on him. Dean Adams of Bay Area Contracting said he came from a professional family and was on his way to get a similar degree and decided he could do what was safe or what he enjoyed but was risky. “I heard that story and … needed to just go with this.”
Since then, Javed has worked for three construction firms, and is now part of the in-house construction trades group at Munson Healthcare. The health care system has its own team of electricians, carpenters, cabinetmakers, painters and others to work on remodeling and updating its facilities.
Javed, who is now 25, credits his education with his hiring. “My degree through NMC was the reason I got this job. My bosses didn’t know of the NMC program,” he said.
Jordan Valdmanis grew up in the industry. In fact, his father Andy was president of the HBAGTA for a number of years. “I was on construction sites all the time,” he said.
He began mowing lawns to make money while in high school, and later took his experience and what he loved to open his own business, Old Mission Associates, a landscape firm based in his hometown Traverse City.
It was after he’d started Old Mission Associates that he went to college. “A lot of people go to college not knowing what they want to do. I knew this was something I wanted to do,” he said. He enrolled at Michigan State, where his brother studied and where his mother had attended. He earned an associate’s degree in landscape and nursery maintenance, while still running the business.
Today Old Mission Associates boasts 35 employees during peak summer season. It offers landscape design, design and installation of hardscapes, shoreline restoration, mowing and maintenance, and snowplowing in the winter.
The 34-year-old Valdmanis said his education – and the scholarship assistance he received from the HBAGTA – have been invaluable in running the business. He even has taught classes for MSU at the University Center.
Jessica Novack set out to be an architect. But after her freshman year, she dropped out and worked a series of odd jobs. She still had dreams of attending college, and decided she wanted to study accounting.
Short on cash, while looking for a job, she applied at Windemuller, the electrical contracting firm in Traverse City. “I knew of the trades. My dad owned a plumbing firm and my mom cleaned construction sites, so I knew of the trades. But I had no experience.”
And no job, at least not at first. After being told there were no openings, she responded with a thank you letter. That earned her an interview, and the company said it would find a place for her on a trial basis while she attended NMC. At the end of the semester, a position as a receptionist opened up, and she was soon working full-time and attending school full-time.
When a position opened in the design department, she applied for it – though she admitted, “I knew nothing about electricity.” Novack soon flourished and then moved into project management. That’s when she returned to school and applied for the scholarship. “It (the cost for school) was all out of my pocket. I didn’t want to ask my parents after quitting school,” she said.
Today the 30-year-old is still at Windemuller, where she is a journeyman electrician and became both the youngest and the first female project manager ever at the company. “I have an eight-year-old daughter and when we drive around town I can point out buildings I had a hand in.”
Robert O’Hara, the executive officer of HBAGTA, said encouraging and supporting those entering the industry is of paramount importance. “Young people entering the trades and industry should have some support,” he said.
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