New construction school seeks to meet industry needs

A new school in Grand Rapids is helping produce more skilled workers in the construction industry.

The West Michigan Construction Institute (WMCI) officially opened its doors to students on January 12.

The school focuses on teaching students who might be interested in pursuing a career in a skilled trade such as a carpenter, plumber, mason, or electrician.

“All skills are needed in the industry right now,” said Jen Schottke, president of WMCI. “I don’t know of any construction company or particular contractor that doesn’t need a skilled tradesperson in their trade, whether it’s brick masons, HVAC technicians or a sprinkler installer. Every profession is in demand right now.

Schottke said statistics show the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

“Statistics (show) that in the commercial construction industry over the past few years almost 50% of our skilled workforce will be retiring over the next 15 years and we anticipate that this will likely be accelerated by the pandemic,” she mentioned.

To solve the problem, Schottke said construction professionals in the area have been talking for a few years about the possibility of starting an institution.

“The idea of ​​having a local comprehensive construction education center that provides business training really started to catch on three years ago,” she said. “The builders and associated contractors did feasibility work to determine if this was the right decision for the West Michigan market and ultimately the construction companies here, and only the community as a whole , agreed that it would be a great asset to our community.”

Schottke described the first four months as a “pilot semester” in which officials get used to running a new trade school with a new team in a new building, located at 801 Century Ave. SW to Grand Rapids.

There are currently a limited number of students enrolled and limited courses that are offered in classrooms and labs where students can perform hands-on activities at WMCI.

WMCI is in partnership with three regional public school districts: Grand Rapids, Northview and Jenison. There are currently 11 high school students enrolled in the program who attend classes five days a week in the morning.

“Courses include a high school curriculum,” Schottke said. “Students follow our foundational curriculum, which teaches the foundational skills individuals need either to enter the workforce immediately after completing the certification course or to continue their further education in the trades. In the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum, Core is the prerequisite for one of the trades programs, whether students want to be a carpenter or wield, Core is that first class.

The lead instructor for the high school program is BJ Wells, a former teacher at a local career technology center. Other instructors are journeypersons or higher in their skilled trade and are certified by WMCI’s curriculum provider.

Additionally, WMCI offers craft training to construction employers and their employees, including concrete and carpentry programs that have 15 and 16 students enrolled, respectively.

WMCI also offers professional development and certification courses, including a recent full-week specialty electrical training program and an upcoming planning course in February.

“We have three construction labs, so we’re able to simulate the terrain in a controlled environment,” Schottke said. “Students enter the laboratory. In the carpentry program, it is commercial carpentry. They’ll simulate a steel stud wall and they’ll install drywall, and they’ll work on a ceiling grid and that sort of thing. But the method of teaching construction is usually that individuals are employed and work in the field and get those hours of training on the job, practice on the job and work, and then come to class one day a week or so to continue their studies and deepen their knowledge of the profession, it is therefore an acquired and learned model.

Once students complete the program they will receive a WMCI certification and if they pass the tests in all modules for a specific level of the NCCER program then the students will be certified at that level.

“In the case of our high school program, in the core curriculum, they will receive an NCCER Core certification and it’s a portable national certification that is meaningful across the country,” Schottke said. “If they want to go to a trade school that offers an NCCER program in Texas or California or wherever they want to go, they can continue there and just take those credits with them, just like a college credit and a transcript. notes.”