Kenneth Woodham knows firsthand the challenge of finding good, qualified employees in the construction industry. He’s been in the industry since 1984 and has been self-employed in the field for the last 25 years.
“The last 20 years I have not had one young man or woman come to me under the age of 40 years old looking for a job,” Woodham said. “They’re not coming to look for the jobs because they’re not experienced.”
But he hopes he can help change that with his role as an instructor for the new building construction program at the Houston County Career Academy.
Houston County Schools added both the building construction program and a new Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, to serve students from schools in Ashford, Columbia, Cottonwood, and Wicksburg. Rehobeth has a Navy JROTC.
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Following a Thursday ribbon cutting ceremony, guests were given a chance to see the newest additions to the career academy that serves all five of Houston County’s high schools and is located in the former Sears department store on West Main Street in Dothan,
It’s hard for someone with no experience using construction tools to get a higher-paying job on a construction site, Woodham said. Typically, they end up on a clean-up crew or fetching items for other workers. It is minimum-wage work. Someone with the right skills, however, can start at $15 an hour, he said.
With a large workshop filled with new saws, drills and other equipment, Woodham said Houston County students will learn every aspect of the trade.
And even if students decide not to go into construction right out of high school, the skills they’ll learn will stay with them for the rest of their lives, Woodham said.
“I’m going to take them from reading tape measures, reading blueprints to actually being able to frame houses,” Woodham said. “That’s our goal is to get them through a two-year curriculum and then when they walk out of here being able to actually go onto a job.”
Dr. Chris Kennedy, director of the Houston County Career Academy, said the additional programs are important for two reasons.
“One, it prepares our students for high wage, high-demand careers, but it also helps to feed employees to our industry right now,” Kennedy said. “In Houston County and surrounding counties, there’s a need for about 500 construction workers every year, and without our students filling those spots, a lot of those spots are going unfilled, which makes it harder to build homes and businesses.”
Students have already registered for the class, and Kennedy said they will be able to work right out of high school in either residential or commercial construction.
While Rehobeth has its own JROTC, there has not been enough interest at any one of the other schools to establish individual programs, Houston County Schools Superintendent Brandy White said. A centralized approach at the career academy was the best way for the system to give students at the other four schools a chance to participate in JROTC — a program educators said helps build leadership skills.
Along with a classroom, the Army JROTC program has an indoor air rifle range with electronic targets. Lt. Col. John Tatom said students will be able to compete against JROTC students in other areas of the country. Safety, Tatom told guests on Thursday, will be a big focus as the students learn shooting skills.
White said he has had the additional career programs in the plans since he first took office. Funding from the state, the Wiregrass Foundation, and the Houston Economic Development Association helped the county school system get the new programs off the ground, White said.
“I think anybody that’s involved in building construction understands that we need a bigger workforce,” White said.
Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.