High Schoolers Key to Ease Labor Shortage?

Members of the Flathead Building Association (FBA) have discovered one possible solution to the widespread labor shortage: Restock the low inventory of laborers with a new group of fresh (young) faces.

The home building industry in this Northwest Montana market is rejuvenated to the point where many of the builders are booking projects more than two years out. This strong demand for labor is a big reason why the FBA is sponsoring the Student Built Home (SBH) program in an effort to clear a career path for local high schoolers who have an interest in construction.

Flathead High School students are building this 1,800-square-foot home in Kalispell, Mont. All of the work is done by the students, who plan to finish the home in May.

Flathead High School students are building this 1,800-square-foot home in Kalispell, Mont. All the work is done by the students, who plan to finish the home by May.

The 38 high school juniors and seniors enrolled in the program at Flathead High School in Kalispell are building a full-sized, two-story, four-bedroom house all on their own (with the oversight of FBA members and skilled subcontractors).

Very few of the students had any building experience prior to joining the program; most simply had an interest in working with their hands in a construction-related field, and didn’t necessarily want to pursue a college education.

“Our primary goal with the program is to facilitate additional education for these kids and get them engaged in a vocation that can carry them throughout their lives,” said FBA Executive Director Renee Ewing. “We see this as one of the keys to help fill the skilled labor gap in our area where builders are continually challenged to find capable laborers.”

The project began last September, with initial support primarily coming from a non-member builder. However, the FBA has been involved from the very beginning, covering the cost of the students’ safety equipment, as well as sponsoring their FBA membership to establish a student chapter.

Just last month – when the home was nearly halfway complete – the FBA learned that the initial builder could no longer provide resources to the project. FBA builders immediately expressed their interest in helping the students finish the job.

This is the FBA’s first time serving as the primary sponsor of a high school mentoring program of this type, but its members and leaders have already seen the benefits of similar initiatives in the past.

Between 2006 and 2009, the FBA supported a program for students in the construction trades curriculum at the local community college. It helped the students build a total of five homes during that time, and in the process, introduced countless young people to a career in home building.

“Those whom I’ve interacted with in this region who are starting a career in home building – electricians, framers, roofers, masons – many have said to me, ‘this isn’t exactly what I had always planned on doing, but it’s working.'” Ewing said. “They say it’s something they enjoy and it enables them to support a family; especially now that the home building market has recovered.”

In addition to sponsoring the SBH program, the FBA also provides scholarships to high school seniors looking for continuing education opportunities in the construction trades.

More information about the project can be found at WesternBuildingCenter.com.  Additional resources about NAHB Student Chapters are available at nahb.org/studentchapters.

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