NM students build up skills in construction class

November 5, 2012 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Students have a host of reasons for enrolling in a new, city-sponsored elective class that is teaching 19 young men basic construction skills.

Clifford Evans, 16, has always been interested in building things, and he’s attracted to the money that can be made in construction trades.

Lucas Prada, also 16, was drawn to the class because it allows him to get college credit from Central New Mexico Community College and high school credit at the same time. He is enjoying learning how to build things, but his dream is to go to college and become a Web designer.

Evans and Prada are both students at the Academy of Trades and Technology charter school, and twice a week they go to the local offices of Associated Builders and Contractors, where they learn construction trade skills from veteran Joseph Hirschfeld. Students in the class are drawn from schools around the Albuquerque metro area.

Hirschfeld’s name is the subject of some mirth in Mayor Richard J. Berry’s [auth] office, because Berry often invoked the name “Joe” when he was telling his staff about his vision for the program, called “Running Start for Careers.”

“It’s funny, when I started trying to explain this program to my people I said, ‘You know who I want teaching this? I want Old Joe teaching this.’ And Joe’s not old, necessarily, but I wanted somebody who had been through their career,” said Berry, who was a general contractor before becoming mayor. “I’d like to have people who have had to survive in the workaday world.”

Hirschfeld is just the sort of veteran Berry had in mind, and not just in name. Moving among the students one day, Hirschfeld offered help as they worked in three groups on skills needed to build the frame of a home or other structure. Specifically, they were marking up boards that would run along the top of a future wall, measuring and marking where doors and windows would go.

When one group of students dawdled before starting a task, he chided them.

“Today, sometime, guys,” he said.

Hirschfeld, who usually teaches adult apprentices, said he likes teaching the teenagers because they soak up the knowledge.

“The younger ones learn it better than the adults,” he said. “They’re more impressionable.”

Berry, who conceived of the idea while serving in the state Legislature, said he hopes the program will help young people connect with future employers. He plans to expand, as early as spring, to other fields such as the film, medical and financial industries. That expansion is being planned under the direction of Running Start for Careers coordinator Carol Biondi, who was brought into the Mayor’s Office through a $150,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation to get the program started.

Berry urged industries seeking to develop their future workforce to contact the city about collaborating on an elective course.

Roxanne Rivera-Wiest, president of ABC, said the program is beneficial to industry because many workers in construction trades are baby boomers nearing retirement.

“Baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves, and we’re going to need skilled tradespeople to take their place,” Rivera-Wiest said.

The recession has been hard on the construction industry in New Mexico. Still, contractors are looking to bring on young people so they will be prepared when the economy improves, she said.

“I know a lot of our contractors are wanting to take on young people and get them trained as apprentices, so when the times do turn around, they have that skilled workforce ready,” she said.

If students complete the class successfully, they will receive a certificate showing pre-apprenticeship or career development, which they can present to future employers. Berry said he hopes employers will recruit students straight from high school to the workplace.

“If I’m a football player and I’m good at it, I get recruited,” Berry said. “If I’m in the honor society, I’m getting recruited. If I want to be a good tradesperson, why isn’t anybody recruiting me?”

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