SPECIAL REPORT: Penn High School training teens for careers in building trades

Penn High School is training teens for careers in building trades. // WSBT 22 photo

You graduate high school, get into college and eventually land a great job.

It’s the American dream, but not all students fit that mold.

In a fast-paced, technology-driven world, area schools are making sure students know they still have options.

Careers in building trades are very much in demand. So much so that one trades instructor told WSBT 22 that most construction employees can name their price.

Despite the decline in skilled labor workers across the county, the Penn High School Trades Program continues to train teens for the workforce.

From 8 a.m. to lunch time, you’ll find most students seated in a classroom.

But not a group of juniors and seniors from Penn High School. Their school work is done on location.

“This has really been one heck of a year for sure, I’ll tell you that,” said Andrew Porter, Penn High School junior.

Since August 23, the teens have been battling the elements and building a house.

“I think it gives us a ton of hands-on experience because we get to do a little bit of everything electrical, plumbing, we do roofing, framing and set these trusses so it gives us a lot of everything,” said Eli Smith, Penn High School junior.

Students have been setting trusses, framing walls and installing electric for the past 50 years thanks to this program.

“I always say ‘Hey you’re going to live in a house.’ Period. Everybody is going to live in a house,” said Les Crooks, Penn High School Building Trades instructor.

But while the basics of home-building stay the same, a lot has changed in the past several decades.

“Years ago, students weren’t as needed as they are now,” said Crooks. “The need for employees is much more tremendous than it was 20 years ago.”

Crooks is in his 20th year as the Penn High School Building Trades instructor. He has seen the drastic shift in the number of labor works and he wants his students to know, the skills are still very much needed.

“It’s just simple supply and demand,” said Crooks. “The demand for employees is so great that somebody will call and somebody can choose whether they want to take that job or not because it may not be in their skill, it may not be what they want to do. So they have a choice of many jobs to pick from so they can come and pick whatever they want.”

A CNN report showed, construction and manufacturing combined added 406,000 jobs to the economy in 2017. Those number are only expected to continue climbing.

So with blue-collar careers booming, employers will have to pay up to attract workers.

Something these guys are banking on it.

“I’m planning on going into construction management at Purdue,” said Smith

“I definitely want to have this as a hobby for sure. Like if I had a hole in my wall, I could easily fix it right up,” said Porter.

“I like building, I’ve been doing it my whole life. My father redid homes and I’ve helped him throughout the years just what I love to do,” said Max Tingle, Penn High School junior.

Whether they decide or cut ties with the career or stick with the sawing and drilling, the skills they learn here, will benefit them for a lifetime.

“Just the basics of what every employer wants in a good employee is somebody who is going to show up on time, be able to work hard, and try and figure things out on their own,” said Crooks.

This program at Penn is only available for juniors and seniors.

There are other courses available for younger students that are interested in the trade.

Those however are in the classroom.

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