Determining a career path can be a difficult decision to make, and sometimes the best way to test a particular career’s waters is to dive right in. High school students in Chicago’s northwest suburban District 211 Building Construction program have been building single-family homes for more than 30 years — a practice that has helped hundreds of students find direction in life, and a career.
The building construction program’s mission is to provide students with marketable skills and an introduction to the construction field, says Otis Price, director of career development, District 211. “It has been a great opportunity for students to get exposure not only working with contractors, but hands-on experience as well,” Price adds.
A goal of the program is for students to develop a broad knowledge and understanding of general contracting and the practical skills needed to build a home. Students are involved at every stage of the home building process, setting and removing forms, framing walls, pulling wires, installing windows and much more.
Despite being a part of the program for many years, Price remains surprised at how quickly and successfully students pick up on each skill. “Besides the hands-on experience, they learn what it means to deal with contractors, what’s involved, to see what those contractors do. They also learn how to read a blueprint. From ground to ceiling they’re digging for the foundation and locking the front door they installed when it’s all done,” Price says.
Teaching the class for Palatine High School — one of District 211’s five high schools — is Bill Fraser, Building Construction teacher, Schaumburg High School. As each student learns skills and observes the construction process, Fraser steps in occasionally to guide certain students to what suits them, and sometimes away from what doesn’t. “Yes, they learn what they don’t want to do, which is good. I’d say roughly 70 percent of the students go into the trades after graduation. Many of them want to be architects and engineers,” Fraser says.
Not everything needed for a career in construction is learned in the field. Hands-on skills learned in the building construction program are supplemented with math, drafting and other core knowledge. “The students get out on the site and see why certain framing elements have angles, or how infrastructure is applied in the real world, and get a chance to see how book learning comes to fruition,” Price says.