Construction and trades training continue to thrive in Texas
Bobby Horner discusses how students can have a very successful career in the construction trades and the building codes industry, and how Texas is helping students to explore their career options
One of the most rewarding experiences in my building safety career is my involvement with the SkillsUSA Teamworks Texas State Championship. This year, I had the privilege to serve as tech chair for the Texas state competition. Because of the COVID pandemic, this was the first year of everyone being together in person to compete since 2019.
While virtual competition worked well for the past two years, there is nothing like being there in person. This year’s event also gave me the opportunity to share another of my passions — the International Code Council’s Technical Training Program, which is a flexible educational program based on the Code Council’s International Residential Code (IRC). The program is divided into six disciplines: building, plumbing, HVAC (mechanical), electrical, masonry and energy. This structure enables a technical school and instructor to integrate one or more disciplines of the program into its current construction trade curricula to better prepare students for careers in the construction and building field.
More than one million students held off from going to college during the COVID pandemic, but programs in skilled trades like construction are seeing an uptick in enrollment. In some places, it’s as high as 40 percent more, showing that many more young people are gravitating toward the trades.
For several years now, my friend Michael Carrillo, a building construction trades instructor at Belton High School in Texas, and I have been working with Madi Dominescy, director of Safety 2.0 programs for the International Code Council, and Ron Piester, vice president of membership and certification, as the “Texas connection” for the ICC Technical Training Program — helping to promote this growing program to schools and colleges. Many other building code professionals around the country are doing the same in their respective states.
Michael, who has also taught as a building construction trades instructor at Texas State Technical College in Waco, Texas (my alma mater – architectural drafting and design), was the first to adapt the ICC Technical Training Program to the college level in Texas.
The ICC Technical Training Program is really growing. Now equipped with an online portal that helps instructors and students as they prepare for learning and navigating a code book, with a little extra study, students can also prep to take the B1 Residential Building Inspector Certification.
Nowadays, going to a university may not be for everyone. A four-year degree was not of interest to me and it’s not required to be successful. Skilled-trade education is making a comeback as more students question the value of four-year colleges and shortages in the labor market.
Our building safety and construction industries are desperate to find qualified people who are interested in learning the trades. There is a huge shortage. A person can have a very successful career in the construction trades and the building codes industry, working at cities around the country. We want to help students explore their options when considering a career. Then, if they choose to go and earn a four-year degree — perhaps in construction management — they have that option.
With all of this in mind, I set about sharing details of the ICC Technical Training Program with the competitors’ advisors at the SkillsUSA Teamworks Texas State Championship. These students already possess many talents and are continuing to develop their knowledge and skills with the help of their building construction trades instructors.
Six teams competed this year, and I expect the number to double next year as schools get back into their normal routines. To watch a group of high school students learn and demonstrate construction skills over a two-day, 14-hour competition is inspiring.
If you are not familiar with SkillsUSA TeamWorks, teams of four students build a project to code with a footprint of generally six-by-eight feet or eight-by-eight feet. This year, projects were designed to the specifications of the 2018 IRC. Each student team includes a carpenter, plumber, electrician and mason. Each team must work together as they would on a real-life construction site.
Throughout the competition, the student teams are required to call for inspections, performed by the judges (inspectors), and the students ask questions of the judges. My team of fellow judges included builders, project superintendents, ICC certified inspectors, building officials, associated general contractors representatives and sponsors.
This state contest is set up to resemble the SkillsUSA National competition and adds elements of real-world scenarios that they would face working with a jurisdiction or construction company. Students must stay on schedule and keep their jobsites neat and orderly.
While serving as the tech chair for the state competition this year, one of the things we emphasized was strict adherence to the building codes. There has been an effort to do this in the past, but this year we had a chance to “up the game” so to speak and we went specifically by the 2018 IRC. We hope to continue developing this trend for future competitions. This is how we hope to encourage schools to add the ICC Technical Training Program to their curriculums.
This year, I was able to speak with all six team instructors and acquaint them with the ICC Technical Training Program. One of those instructors, whose Medina Valley High School team won first place, sees the value in what the ICC Technical Training Program provides for his students. He has now signed up to add the ICC Technical Training Program to his curriculum.
The ICC Technical Training Program adds to a student’s marketability by expanding their resumes with National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certifications, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10 or 30 certifications. And if a student adds the ICC Technical Training Program certification, we believe that just shoots them to the top of the hiring ladder. They will have the hands-on tool and jobsite knowledge, the OSHA safety knowledge, and knowledge of the building codes. These students will work with codes wherever they may wind up, so earning this certification is a real plus for them.
Over the past few years, Michael and I have become important partners in the development and strategic direction of the ICC Technical Training Program. In 2019, Madi and Ron attended a meeting we hosted in Corpus Christi, Texas, to hear how we were promoting the ICC Technical Training Program in Texas. They ended up learning much more. Here’s what they had to say:
“Bobby and Michael opened our eyes to the opportunities and challenges of the program from the perspective of an instructor,” said Madi. “It was immediately clear that the work they were doing in Texas had the potential to benefit the program nationally. Their insight sparked a professional partnership between the four of us that continues to this day.”
“Bobby and Michael’s passion for the Technical Training Program is truly inspiring,” said Ron. “They see beyond the nuts and bolts of delivering the ICC Technical Training Program to high school students; Bobby and Michael understand the importance of this program to the Code Council mission.”
Since that meeting, we have become de-facto advisors to the Technical Training Program. We also serve as unofficial ICC Technical Training Program ambassadors, promoting the program to instructors, high schools and workforce development programs in Texas and beyond, including SkillsUSA. Most recently, the Code Council engaged us to develop additional exam items for the ICC Technical Training Program module exams.
Michael and I will continue to work together — along with Madi and Ron and others in our industry — to develop technical training and help students attain even more knowledge to help them achieve success in their construction-related and code-related careers.