$2.7M grant will help more NKY adults and high school students pursue careers in the building trades

Enzweiler and Gateway enrollment on the rise

A $2.7 million grant is targeting the shrinking trade workforce in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky by expanding training facilities and classes to reach more high school students and adults seeking a career in the diverse field.

The goal is to replace workers, managers and entrepreneurs who are reaching retirement age or who closed shop during the most recent recession. Those changes will leave about 46,500 regional jobs unfilled over the next 10 years without bringing more folks into the trades, said Brian Miller, executive vice president for the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky.

The grant will expand training in the trades -- electric, HVAC, masonry, plumbing, welding, carpentry and remodeling -- to reach an enrollment of more than 1,200 high school students in five districts -- up from two -- in the next three to five years. More than 100 students are enrolled at the HBA's Enzweiler Building Institute for 2017.

Adult enrollment is expected to grow from about 200 in the Enzweiler program and at Gateway Community and Technical College to more than 660, Miller said.

The grant offered by the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative Advisory Committee will be used to expand the Enzweiler institute in Boone County, which serves high school students and adults, to include a masonry lab, welding lab and heavy diesel mechanics for construction lab, said Miller. The existing carpentry lab will double in size, and an expanded event center will be broken into classroom space.

Also, an abandoned pod at the retired Alexandria Elementary School in Campbell County will be renovated for evening adult classes as part of the Enzweiler program. That renovation will expand the offerings at the Campbell County Area Technology Center for high school students, Miller said.

The building trades are a good career path, say experts in the field.

"Not everyone's cut out to be a doctor or a lawer," said Kevin McNight, who teaches both adults and high school students at Enzweiler. "And not everyone's cut out to be a tradesperson. You can see it when someone has the natural ability to work with their hands."

Miller said there's a need for more subcontractors and more construction managers.

"The average age is 59 years old, and I know guys that have shut down or (are) just retiring," Miller said.

Kevin McKnight teaches Introduction to Construction Trades for High School Students at Enzweiler Building Institute and is an adult evening carpentry instructor. (Photo provided by the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky)

"I wasn't planning on doing this," McNight, a carpenter and cabinetmaker, said about teaching teens. "But it's been a lot of fun."

There is a mix of teens who take the introduction-to-trades class, he said, from those who are high performing to "kids who do better with something hands on."

"There was a lot of attitude with the alternative-school kids, but we ended up bonding," he said. "I keep stressing how many tradesmen are retiring, and there's no one to replace them."

McNight's adult students vary from workers already in their field of choice to an occasional "engineer from GE who just wants to learn woodworking."

Former student and current HVAC and electric teacher Tony Hoekstra said that after high school he was wiring condominiums in Hawaii when he realized he wanted to do more with his career. He flew back home to Cincinnati on 9/11 -- that's another story -- to work for Edgewood Electric and got his license through the HBA program.

Today he works for Shehan Pools in Florence while teaching at Enzweiler at night.

His adult students come from all walks of life. Many of them were laid off in various other fields and can't find jobs anywhere else, Hoekstra said.

The Enzweiler program for adults is also inexpensive. Many adult students work in the field while attending the four-year school at night, Miller said. Programs take 2-4 years and tuition starts at $1,925 per year. High school students who attend the area technology schools for two years can take a proficiency test and skip the first year at Enzweiler.

Miller said graduates of programs such as electric, HVAC and plumbing, which require state licenses, only have to work four years in the field instead of the six required by the state to take the licensing test. A license can mean a jump in wages.

Partners in the HBA grant include Boone County Schools, Kenton County Board of Education, Campbell County Schools, Ludlow Independent Schools, Northern Kentucky Educational Cooperative Services, Boone County and Campbell County Area Technology Centers and Gateway Community and Technical College.

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