Construction companies say their biggest challenge remains finding enough qualified people to keep up with a growing list of projects, but the search could get easier.
Megan Dancause thinks the tide is turning based on enrollment numbers she’s seeing at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, a school known for its building trades programs. Dancause is assistant director of admissions.
Thaddeus Stevens has about 630 students enrolled in his freshman class, the most in his history and about twice the size of the sophomore class. And every program in the school has received more applications from potential students, which could fuel the future growth of the school’s student body.
“I think students, educators, and parents are starting to realize that a four-year degree isn’t for everyone,” Dancause said. “You can earn enough to support your family with a two-year education. And they hear more about the skills gap.
The National Center for Education Statistics said undergraduate enrollment in the United States rose 29% at two-year postsecondary institutions between 2000 and 2010 before plummeting during the recession. The center predicts that enrollment in two-year schools will increase by 21% between 2015 and 2026, while overall undergraduate enrollment could increase by 14% during this period to reach 19.3 million students.
Dancause credits local initiatives like Building Trades Day, an annual event developed by Clay Township-based Landmark Homes in partnership with Thaddeus Stevens, for the growing interest in listings. The event introduces local high school students to career opportunities in the construction industry.
The four-year event attracts more people every year. More than 300 students participated in the most recent Building Trades Day last month, held in Landmark’s Hawk Valley Estates community in Brecknock Township.
Dancause believes some of these students could enter the workforce directly after high school, which can benefit homebuilders like Landmark. Others may explore a two-year program at Thaddeus Stevens or another business and technical school.
“(Trades Day) has a ripple effect,” she said. “We see this ripple effect of more campus visits and more applications.”
Metal fabrication and welding technology is a popular program at Thaddeus Stevens. New students are also attracted to electromechanical technology, as well as proven programs such as carpentry.
The college’s newest fall program is Software Engineering. It was one of the first programs to fill up.
Thaddeus Stevens, a public university, is currently expanding its educational spaces by $20 million to accommodate future enrollment growth. The school currently has approximately 1,100 students.
Landmark president and CEO Cliff Weaver hopes his company’s partnership with Thaddeus Stevens and expanding space at the college will eventually lead to more construction workers.
“There’s a huge demand for trades and those kinds of skills,” he said, citing plumbing and electrical careers as examples. “As a young person, if you have these skills, you can get a job for the rest of your life.”
He said Landmark launched careers day to educate young people about the construction industry. But as the construction industry rebounds from the recession — a time when experienced workers left the field to take up other jobs — such events become even more important as part of workforce rebuilding efforts. ‘artwork.
In addition to people changing careers during the recession, the construction workforce is aging and a wave of retirements is expected in the coming years.
Homebuilders will need to replace these people, especially if the local housing market remains strong and demand for new homes continues to rise. Commercial builders will likely face similar growing pains as older, experienced workers exit the workforce.
But it’s not just central Pennsylvania that faces the challenge, Dancause added. Trade school graduates are expected to have employment opportunities in many markets.
Thaddeus Stevens also hopes to increase awareness of his programs outside of central Pennsylvania. Over 50% of its current students are from Lancaster County.