Seth Thornburg, 17, a senior at Durango High School, is pretty handy with a miter saw and a router – skills enhanced in carpentry and woodworking classes.
Seth and 85 other students from five different Southwest Colorado school districts got to show off their skills Thursday competing in the 2019 SkillsUSA Region 8 Championships at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives seeking to build career and technical skills for students looking to enter the construction and trades industry and other technical careers. More than 335,000 students participate in SkillsUSA programs across the country.
The top finishers in 11 different competitions – ranging from woodworking and welding to crime-scene investigation and job-interviewing skills – will get to move on and compete in the SkillsUSA Colorado State Leadership and Skills Conference in Colorado Springs in April.
Shaun Smith, career and technical education department coordinator and woodshop teacher at DHS, said, “This is a nice showcase presentation. It brings the students and industry together under one roof. The kids look forward to it all year.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 323,000 jobs were open nationwide for skilled workers in the construction industry in October 2018, the latest month for which numbers were available.
Smith said his students know there is a shortage of skilled workers in construction and building trades. He said, “They hear it from us, but it really makes more of an impact for them at an event like this, where they hear it from people in the industry.”
Besides skilled workers in the baby boom generation retiring, Smith said, career and technical education was often neglected in public schools in the 1980s, and only in the past decade have career and technical programs seen a resurgence in interest at public schools.
Smith works closely with the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado not only to offer internships and apprenticeships but to provide mentors and to develop relevant curriculum to build students’ skills in areas where builders see shortages.
Ryan Voegeli, preconstruction manager for Kogan Builders in Durango, said, “We see a shortage of qualified workers across the whole gamut, from general labor to qualified carpenters, plumbers, electricians to mechanical.”
The Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado, he said, will award 10 scholarships, each worth $2,000, this year to area students interested in attending college or vocational schools in subjects relevant to the construction trades industry.
Voegeli also said the association is working with schools to offer internships and trade certifications in areas such as tools, construction materials, math, green building and employability.
Katie Middleton, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Southwest Colorado, said, “It’s all about getting industry together with the kids so they are job-ready from day one.”
Seth, whose parents are Mike and Debby Thornburg, earned an internship after the SkillsUSA 2018 competition from Veritas Fine Homes. Thornburg won the Region 8 carpentry competition in 2018 and finished second in the state competition.
During his internship, Thornburg said his main job was cleaning job sites, but it allowed him to learn about all the various building stages needed to complete a home. By the end of his internship, he was working on a framing crew.
“I got to see how things were done. I learned a lot,” he said.
Apparently so. Seth already has a job offer from Veritas when he graduates this year.