He watched his family succeed and make good money doing HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning work. Owings is a dual-enrolled junior at North Port High School and Suncoast Technical College. He spends the first three periods at the high school and the remainder of his day at Suncoast learning about the HVAC trade.
For Owings, college is just too much sitting.
“I get to work outside and I don’t want to do an office job,” Owings said. “I’d rather be up moving around.”
The inaugural Construction Rodeo held Thursday at Manatee Technical College was meant to introduce students from 11 area schools with Owings’ same interests to the trades industry. The event was sponsored by the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, a nonprofit trade organization.
In Manatee County, there are no shortage of trade jobs.
41percent growth in construction employment in North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area between 2011 and 2016, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data
“We need people in construction because there’s so much construction happening in the area and not enough workers,” said Maura Howl, MTC spokeswoman. “We can’t keep up with the demand, so we need to get a lot more students into these programs.”
According to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 56 construction jobs for every 1,000 jobs in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area in May of last year compared to 48 five years ago.
Beyond the local shortage, Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Greene said introducing students to trade work can capture a segment of the student body that could otherwise fall through the cracks.
“Not all of our students are going to a four-year university or college,” Greene said at the event Thursday. “But they still need to have an understanding that you can make a great living even if you don’t go to a college. You can still go to a technical school and learn a trade.”
Some Manatee County schools are working with MTC executive director Doug Wagner to bring in career technical programs, like a construction class at Bayshore High School and an automotive program planned for the new high school in Parrish.
Joseph Class, a corporate recruiter for Fort Myers-based B&I Contractors Inc., went to the Construction Rodeo with 50 open jobs. If students came to Class with no trades experience, he still had a path for them.
“They could come in as a high school student who just graduated and come in as a helper,” Class said. “After 90 days we help them with an apprenticeship program that we offer. Basically we send them to schooling at nighttime where they go to school two nights and work with us during the day for 40 hours. After three to four years, they can end up with a certification whether it’s in electricity, plumbing, as a mechanic or in pipe fitting and welding, as well.”
THERE’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE A NEED FOR ELECTRICIANS, PLUMBERS AND HVACS AND YOU CAN’T OUTSOURCE THESE JOBS.
Gulf Coast Builders Exchange executive director Mary Dougherty-Slapp
Class spoke of the looming retirement crisis the construction industry will endure if a younger generation of trade workers is not brought in. Ken Jackson, general manager of plumbing services at Sarasota-based Aqua Plumbing and Air, echoed Class’ thoughts.
“There’s tremendous opportunity as far as the average construction worker in the U.S. is 55, so in five or seven years they’re going to be at retirement age, so there will be a huge shortage,” Jackson said.
Gulf Coast Builders Exchange executive director Mary Dougherty-Slapp had a lasting thought for students who are interested in the trades.
“There’s always going to be a need for electricians, plumbers and HVACs,” Dougherty-Slapp said. “And you can’t outsource these jobs.”