“There’s a big skills gap, as far as what students are learning and the needs of the community—the jobs that are available!”
This is Andrew Brackman (of The Finishing Touch, a Brackman Group business) interviewing Cameron Hoge, teacher of Building Construction courses at Twin Falls School District.
AB: I first met you, Cameron, several years ago when you were a general contractor and your business name was Sunrise Construction. In those days you were specializing in remodels, additions and cabinetry but I believe you started out in the building trades as a carpenter?
CH: That’s right. You and I met when I needed some concrete work done for one of my customers and I subbed that out to The Finishing Touch.
In fact, I worked with you and Matt on a few jobs before I decided to make a big change: When I became a teacher of High School students!
AB That’s right, it was a Big Change! What prompted it?
CH: Well, I started noticing how much more difficult it was becoming to hire good employees. And that made everything else much more of a challenge because I couldn’t do everything well, without the help of good people working with me. No one can grow a business without the professional staff needed to serve their customers.
AB: What made you decide on teaching?
CH: Well, my wife is a teacher so I had some insight into that profession and the Twin Falls School District. That made it something I would consider generally, but it began to seem like a sensible idea because someone has to teach these skills or they will be lost. So I decided to propose a Construction Program for high school-age students.
AB: That was recently, right?
CH: Yes, we received a good reception from the School District as it was confirmed that there is a strong need:
A 2019 survey from the Associated General Contractors of America found that 83% of Idaho contractors reported that they struggled to find qualified employees for hourly positions.
And around that time, the city’s Economic Development Director noted that housing growth had stalled at between 200-250 new houses a year in the area and there are a limited number of contractors available for city projects such as road and sidewalk construction. He said the lack of skilled workers also increases costs for new homes and other construction work.
So, the TFSD put together a committee to see what new Career and Technical Programs (CTE) they could add and Building Construction was the most feasible at that time. With another housing boom on the rise, having a program to teach students practical entry skills leading to a job after high school made sense.
We started the program in September of 2019 with three class offerings of 25 students each, so we had 75 students our first year. And the course has been popular ever since.
The program is divided into two semesters and then one full year for a total of 3 levels (over two years). During the first two semesters we spend a lot time going through the different phases of construction in our classroom/shop. In the level 3 class we have some on-the-jobsite building projects for the students. In 2020-2021, we constructed a 30’x 30’ storage building at South Hills Middle School.
This year, 2021, we’ve completed a greenhouse at Twin Falls High School—built for their agriculture program with free labor recruited from the Building Construction Program. Andrew Brackman volunteered his time on the greenhouse and claims he hired a good summer employee he met on the project! Several more of those projects are on the drawing board.
AB: And somewhere in there, I got involved!
CH: That’s right! We’ve been seeking out area contractors to serve on our Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and you, Andrew Brackman, are one of our technical advisors on the committee.
We thank you for that! And we are looking forward to having your help on more projects, giving our students the opportunity to learn from your experience and knowledge in the excavation and concrete trades.
AB: Do you still need local volunteers and is there anything you want to share about serving on the TAC?
CH: We ask that our TAC members serve a minimum of 2-3 years. In the future, we will be looking for new members from the community to rotate in but not all at once. We want to keep some of our senior members in to help with the new ones and rotate slowly. We also want to work with every employer in the building trades within our community. We can always use help with needs for our program and students. Also, I want people to know that they do not have to be on our TAC to reach out to me with questions or to discuss ways we can work together. Thank you, Andrew, for volunteering to be a part of this!
AB: You’re welcome! So Cameron, I want to thank you for the interview and wish you well because we could all use more good employees!