Merlene Davis: Home Builders Association starting 2-year apprentice program

Herald-Leader columnistJuly 16, 2014 

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    For more information or to apply to the program, contact Bruce Maybriar, director of professional development, at (859) 273-5117, Ext. 33, or email bruce@hbalexington.com.

The Home Builders Association of Lexington is looking for a few good men and women who want to become skilled workers in the construction industry.

Starting in September, classes for carpentry and for heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology will be held in the evenings at the new Building Institute of Central Kentucky, a school the association started.

"It is something we have talked about for a few years," said Todd Johnson, executive vice president of the association. "But the need came to the surface. There is a crunch in the labor force (because) there are fewer people coming into the trades now."

Traditionally, the skills associated with construction were handed down through the family from one generation to another, Johnson said. But now, families are sending their children to college, creating a shortage of skilled labor.

The apprenticeship program, called the Workforce Development Training Program, will be based on a model that has been successful in Northern Kentucky since 1967.

Enzweiler Apprentice Training Program, founded by Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, is the longest running apprenticeship training program in the United States, according to the program's website.

That program has classes in carpentry, electricity, HVAC, remodeling and maintenance, masonry, plumbing and welding taught by trades professionals.

Enzweiler graduates about 96 percent of its students and all of those graduates pass the test for licensure, Johnson said.

The Lexington program is driven by the 750 members of the association, some of whom sit on the advisory committee for the school and direct the curriculum.

"Our goal is to produce someone who is employable at the end of the two-year program," Johnson said.

The National Association of Home Builders is predicting an increase in housing starts this year over 2013, he said, particularly with multi-family housing.

But locally, Johnson said, there is a sense that buyers have not "reached a full comfort level about the overall economy yet. Our members are busy with new construction but definitely could stand to be busier."

Remodelers, he said, are "slammed," but there are fewer bigger jobs in this market.

Still, the result of member surveys has shown there are 30 jobs available now in Lexington.

Students will attend class two nights a week, from 6 to 9 p.m. Most, if not all, will have day jobs in the trades they are studying. So far, 15 students have applied. Classes start Sept. 8.

So far, all the applicants are men, Johnson said. The association wants to attract women as well.

Although the training program's policies have not been finalized for students, association members do have rules in place for their employees or potential employees.

A drug test will be administered at the time of the application and randomly throughout the apprenticeship, he said. And criminal background checks will be conducted and the results reviewed on a case-by-case basis with acceptance into the program based on the nature and severity of the criminal activity.

Tuition is $3,000 a year or $1,500 a semester. Books are covered, but tools are not. "Most companies have a tool-purchase program," Johnson said. Tools will be available in the classroom, however.

Semesters run from September-December, and January-April. Classes will be held at the school, 124 Trade Street.

Next year, in the fall, three more disciplines — plumbing, masonry and remodeling maintenance — will be added to the curriculum, he said.

"We act on the direction of our members," Johnson said. "We were told this is something they need. Employers are behind it.

"We are going to hopefully provide good skills to help (students) be employable," he said. "There is still interest there for young people to work with their hands in a trade."

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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