Texas Builders Break Ground on Trade School

Howard College workforce and community development officer Jamie Rainey poses with Texas Builders Foundation chair Michael Biggerstaff at the groundbreaking.

An Oct. 5 groundbreaking ceremony for the Howard College-San Angelo Construction Trades Center of Excellence was also a day to celebrate expanded career choices for Texas high school graduates – and a new generation of skilled construction workers.

Over the past 18 months, Michael Biggerstaff, past president of the HBA of San Angelo and now chair of the Texas Builders Foundation, worked with San Angelo community leaders to raise over $600,000 for the new center, which is now fully funded. Additionally, each of the 25 students in the first class that will begin in March 2018 will receive full scholarships to the eight-month program.

“Today was an extraordinary day for our community, our industry, the Texas Builders Foundation, our association and especially for the next generation of skilled tradesmen that will be created by the Howard College construction trades program,” said Biggerstaff, chair of the Howard College Construction Trades Committee.

Like the rest of the nation, Texas faces a critical shortage of skilled construction workers. Over the last 20 years, many high schools phased out vocational programs and encouraged students to focus more on obtaining a four-year college degree.

That means an entire generation of parents, students and school counselors has not been exposed to the building industry as a professional career choice, Biggerstaff said. “Not everyone who finishes high school goes on to college to get a formal education, and the options for those people are extremely limited today. What we’re trying to do is give them options to make a living wage. The construction trades will do that.”

The community college model is a good fit for trades certification programs: The 5,200 square-foot center will house labs with open indoor and outdoor space. The curriculum includes basic construction math, how to read a blueprint, building codes and five hands-on classes.

San Angelo Mayor Brenda Gunter, State Representative Drew Darby (R), Howard College President Cheryl Sparks and other community leaders took part in the ceremony.

“It’s a grassroots effort, and there’s been amazing support from the community to have this program at Howard College,” said Jamie Rainey, the college’s workforce and community development officer. “To me, that’s what a community college is all about – we’re about community.”

The center is a success story that can serve as an example for other community partnerships, she said. “We love to partner with our communities and meet whatever the training needs are that our community is identifying, and this is definitely one,” Rainey said.

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