Tradespeople across the region began recognizing several years ago that as people in their professions retired, fewer young workers stepped in to replace them.
It was a concern to local officials, who knew that the dependability and skill of a region’s workforce is central to building its future.
That’s when Brian Milleville, Don Althoff and others began brainstorming. As a result, the “Construction Trades Education Curriculum” was born.
Modeled on the successful CEO entrepreneurship program, CTEC teaches selected students skills that will help them fill those crucial jobs in the trades.
An Effingham city commissioner at the time, Milleville was doing what elected officials do — talking to his constituents — when the problem became clear.
“I had a conversation with two local businessmen about the construction/building trades industry in Effingham,” he said. “There was concern that there was a lack of qualified new hires to replace those people with a good deal of experience once they retire.
“Then I looked at the statistics that showed the average age of some of these occupations was 50-plus. Then the question came up that if we don’t have the construction or home builders, then who will do that work five, 10 or 20 years from now?”
At about the same time, Don Althoff was thinking the same thing. Althoff, who is still a city commissioner, recalled talking to tradesmen at the Effingham County Builders Association Christmas party several years ago.
“They were saying there are no young people in the trades,” Althoff said.
The commissioners enlisted Lake Land College and area school districts as partners from the outset. In addition, a CTEC advisory board was formed. It included city officials, as well as representatives from private business and school districts. The task? To develop a curriculum, find students and create a program.
Current board members include president Bryan Wenthe, vice president Marty Stock, treasurer Bob Schultz, secretary Jerry Tkachuk, Milleville, Althoff; and construction professionals Scott Barr, Roger Bloemker, Mike Wente and Shane Frederking. Teutopolis High School guidance counselor Diana Grinestaff and Effingham High School principal Jason Fox round out the board.
Wenthe said the class is training students to “fill a void” caused by an aging construction community, in which the average age is well over 50.
“Local companies are having trouble filling several vacancies,” he said. “This class gives them a general idea of the construction industry, so they have some skills when they graduate.”
Stock said CTEC has been developed to fill an age gap in building trades.
“We pushed our kids to go to college and get a four-year degree,” he said. “We didn’t push them toward the trades for 25 to 30 years.”
Stock said the average age of a skilled tradesman is 54.
“Everything needs to be done, though,” he said. “From digging a ditch to running a company, it all has to be done. We just lost sight of the fact that a lot of kids aren’t cut out for college.”
Wenthe said the concept has really caught on.
“I think it’s gone fabulous, based on feedback from students,” he said. “We have some students who may not have been motivated by the existing school curriculum, but like to work with their hands. But now we have students who want to be there at 7 a.m.”
Effingham High School industrial arts teacher Jed Shumaker teaches the class every morning. A former carpenter who also has a bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from Eastern Illinois University, Shumaker was the shop teacher at Neoga High School before that program was discontinued. Less than a week later, the Altamont High School graduate was hired at the CTEC instructor. He also teaches wood shop at EHS.
Shumaker said he began putting together the curriculum shortly after he was hired in June 2015.
“We try to expose them to pretty much everything involved in building,” he said.
The CTEC students study concrete, plumbing, climate control, electricity and carpentry.
“We also talk to civil engineers and surveyors,” Shumaker said, adding that CTEC students also learn basic first aid and CPR skills as well.
Shumaker said the class is everything he had hoped for when he was hired.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “These kids get to see a lot more than other students.”
This year’s CTEC crew has varying reasons for taking the class. Effingham High School student Olivia Byers, for example, wants to use the skills she is learning for personal reasons.
“I want to build my own house some day,” Byers said.
Fellow EHS student Tyler Lindsey wants to use CTEC as a springboard to his own construction career.
“I wanted to do more hands-on learning to get better at building houses and framing,” he said.
John Deters of Teutopolis High School is no stranger to many of the skills taught in CTEC, having grown up on a dairy farm.
“Somebody’s always building a shed or fixing up something,” Deters said. “I would like to see what I am good at.”
Althoff said 16 of the 19 students in last year’s program went into some sort of construction trade.
The program was started with the help of $75,000 in seed money from the City of Effingham. The board held its annual fundraiser Thursday and accepts donations from throughout the community.
Bill Grimes can be reached at email@example.com or 217-347-7151, x132.