One way industry stakeholders are trying to address the construction labor challenge is to build a pipeline of engaged workers by introducing young people to the industry in their high schools. The Geometry in Construction at Loveland High School serves the dual purpose of exposing young people to a potential career and helping them do better in school no matter their aspirations.
Geometry in Construction is the mutual effort of a math teacher and shop teacher. The class was created to help students perform better—and for a little job security, according to Scott Burke, technical education teacher at the school and one of the developers of the curriculum.
Elective courses aren’t always a priority for budget-strapped schools, and when those teachers retire, they often aren’t replaced, Burke said.
He and his partner got the idea for the course from data out of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, which found that “if you can contextualize curriculum and show kids real applications for core academics, they not only retain it better, but they also score higher on all forms of standardized testing,” he said.
In 2006, 80 students signed up for the first Geometry in Construction class, Burke said. Students built an 840-square foot one-bedroom cabin that now sits outside Woodland Park. Twelve years later, the course typically has a waitlist, and the program has been replicated in over 425 schools around the country.
Implications for the industry
The only prerequisite for GiC is to have successfully passed Algebra 1, so students tend to be ninth or 10th graders, Burke said. However, the class does attract older students, as well as those who may not have technically met the prerequisite.
“There’s this little thing called social promotion, so every year we get students who really didn’t pass Algebra 1, but they show up in our class anyway. That’s just one of the games that is played in education,” he said.
Some students decide to pursue construction as a career, Burke said. “We have purposefully created it so that it covers all aspects of the industry. We do everything from the trades to construction management to civil engineering to interior design.”
[Related: From text books to tool belts]
Burke will be taking the GiC program to Jefferson County schools next year when he begins teaching at Green Mountain High School.
“Sixty percent of my job will be to continue the Geometry in Construction program,” he said, “but 40% of my job is at the district level to try to get Jefferson County in line so that all the schools” offer the program.
He expects to have the program at six of Jefferson County’s 17 high schools in the next two years. He says Cherry Creek School District and Denver Public Schools are coming on board, and he’s getting interest from schools in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and Douglas County School District. He’s also working with the Metro Denver chapter of Habitat for Humanity on accessory dwelling units.
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.