There is no denying the blue collar work ethic that has made Effingham much of what it is today. The average age of that workforce is increasing, however, with the emphasis in recent years to attend college.
To combat this trend, Effingham City Commissioners Don Althoff and Brian Milleville have come up with a program to fill the impending shortage.
“Everyone is driving kids to college, but not everyone can make college,” said Althoff, who heard at a Home Builders event recently the average age of carpenters in the area is in the mid-50s.
The commissioners put the word out to local plumbers, electricians and carpentry businesses that they were looking to create a Construction Trades program at the local high school and were overwhelmed by the response.
“It is amazing what we have gotten done in three meetings,” said Milleville, who said local business like Wente Plumbing & Heating, Akra Builders Inc. and Burford Electric have shown support. “The business community, school and city have come together in support of this.”
After hearing interest from local businesses that they supported the idea and would hire graduates of the program, the duo contacted Lake Land College.
“Lake Land provided us with a curriculum and said they would provide an instructor,” said Milleville.
With various details still being hammered out, Milleville hopes the idea can be brought before Effingham Unit 40 in coming months. Unit 40 has put an emphasis on vocational programs recently, as they have created a Manufacturing Class to teach students welding.
The Construction Trades class, as it is tentatively being called, would potentially be a two-year, dual-credit program, said Milleville.
The first year would introduce juniors to the basic skills needed in carpentry, plumbing and electric, followed by a second year that would focus on one of those three industries.
“Statistically, students that are in a trade program are less likely to drop out of high school,” said Milleville.
In addition to helping a student through school, Althoff said the class would provide skilled tradesmen that are in need.
“Even if they don’t end up working in the trade, they can learn how to work on their house when they are older,” said Althoff.
The timeline looks to bring the idea before the school board in coming months, with a potential sign-up slated for the middle of the next school year. If all goes as planned, the program would start for juniors and seniors in the Fall of 2015.
According to Milleville, if the program takes off, he hopes it can be expanded in coming years.
“We would love to have a vocational high school in Effingham,” he said.
A meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall Chambers tonight.
The program is still looking for assistance from local business, whether that be donation of tools or workers to help teach a class, along with discussions on active work sites.
“We hope that the students can learn by building a home,” said Althoff.
Tony Huffman can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Ednthuffman.