Senior Joel Dubon didn't expect to see his picture on the side of a CATS bus as he left the Goodwill Construction Skills Training Center, but there he was working on a minihome in his construction gear with his tools. The advertisement read, "Possibility lives beyond the classroom." Joel, a Harding University High student, has been taking specialized courses at no cost at the center since his junior year.
"I was waiting for my mom when I saw it. I couldn't believe it was me," said Joel. "I hope it gets people interested in what we learn at the center. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in my freshman and sophomore years, and then this opportunity was offered in one of my classes. My thought was 'this is an open door, take it.' I'm glad I did."
Goodwill Industries of Southern Piedmont, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) and The ROC (Rebuilding Opportunities in Construction) partnered to build the training center. High school juniors and seniors have an opportunity to learn construction code basics, occupational safety and health administration, blueprint reading, carpentry, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), architectural drafting, green technology and electrical building systems. Students from Harding, Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology and West Mecklenburg High are enrolled in classes at the center during the day. There are classes for adults in the afternoons and evenings.
"The students are Career College Promise students on the Construction Management Diploma Pathway in construction/architecture or electrical/HVAC. The classes are taught by CPCC professors," said Margaret Thornton, CPCC career and technical education coordinator Harper Campus/ROC associate director. "The students will graduate from CMS and continue to complete their pathway to gain their associate's degree in their chosen field with more than 42 credit hours already earned when they graduate from high school."
The students' learning is put to the test in practical ways. This year's seniors built a minihome from the foundation up. For their final exam, they had to make sure it was level so they could place the doors and windows. By doing so, they laid the foundation for juniors to outfit the home with electrical/HVAC.
In their junior year, Joel and 13 other students interviewed with companies for paid summer internships. Thornton assists in preparing students with the soft skills they need for employment. The companies have asked that all the students return for this coming summer and have hired an additional 22.
"On Joel's first day of his internship, he noticed some of the men didn't have all the appropriate gear on. He asked the supervisor if he could talk to them about it," said Thornton. "He did and they immediately got the other items they needed. The company was very impressed. I'm not surprised they want him back."
Joel said he was one of those kids who would read the Legos manual, build the item and then knock it down to build it again.
"Architecture interests me," said Joel. "I liked sketching out my dream home, learning to read blueprints and being able to use the apps that are relevant to the industry," he said.
CPCC professor Alan Beane had been building things since he was old enough to hold a hammer and has taught construction for 16 years.
"We need more skilled labor in the workforce. If you can learn a skill and be good at it, you can get a job and keep it," said Beane. "Regardless of whether or not the students go into one of these fields, they have learned the basics. This will serve them well when they are looking to buy a home or need things done in their home."
Joel plans to continue his education at CPCC after he graduates from high school.
"I'm excited to get my certification. I know to become an architect, I'll need to take more classes," he said. "I've gotten a good head start here. The staff encourages us to be better. They let us know it's hard work, but they help us a lot."