Back to School: Learning Construction Career Skills in Shop Class

Parents Urged to Encourage Middle – and High School Students to Explore the Construction Trades Through Shop Classes

If your student or child has expressed interest in taking “shop class” in middle or high school, it’s worth exploring.

Traditionally, shop classes feature instruction in a craft or trade such as carpentry, electrical, masonry or even welding. These skills-based courses make up “career and technical education,” or CTE for short. But these courses provide more than just hands-on learning opportunities, such as how to properly use a range of tools and building materials.

However, a decrease in the prevalence of shop classes offered in Minnesota high schools has occurred over the past several decades as an increasing number of students have been encouraged to take a college-prep curriculum — coinciding with an increased push for students to attend college and earn a four-year degree to be “successful.”

While academic success is important, so are the real-world connections and skills that are learned in career and technical education courses.

“At the Construction Careers Foundation, we strongly support making construction courses available in the curriculum for Minnesota’s middle schools and high schools,” said Mary Stuart, associate director of the Construction Careers. “Construction courses offer students a pathway to learn about careers in the construction trades.”

“Not all students want to go to college or enter the military after high school,” Stuart added. “Construction courses can introduce a student to construction skills and prepare them to apply for an registered apprenticeship offered by a Minnesota construction and building trade union.”

In addition to CTE courses offered by Minnesota middle schools and high schools, other pathways available to young people to learn about careers in construction include:

ConstructionCareers.org – a website offered by the Construction Careers Foundation that provides information about careers in construction;

● Construction Trades – a mobile app offered by the Construction Careers Foundation that provides information about careers in construction;

Minnesota Trades Academy – a paid summer internship program where students learn construction skills;

Learn2Build – year-round programs offered through selected schools where middle school students learn the basics about construction;

Construct Tomorrow – in-person events for high school students to learn about careers in construction from Minnesota construction workers.

Here are four valuable career skills that students can learn in CTE courses, and why you should consider these opportunities for your students and children.

Work Ethic

Effort and attitude are important qualities that employers in any field look for in their employees. Developing a strong work ethic will help students land more jobs and promotions and drive them to success.

Career and technical education courses do a lot to teach about work ethic. After all, many of the craft instructors for shop class have a background working in the industry themselves and know the needs and expectations of employers first-hand.

“One of the most important habits for real-life construction workers to develop is showing up on time,” said Stuart. “Because construction crews work as a team, it’s critical that everyone on the team show up on time. Construction classes in a high school can help to plant that seed.”

One of the many ways that CTE can teach students about work ethic is by instilling a sense of pride and responsibility in their work.

For some students, traditional classroom assignments and homework don’t offer much feeling of reward. But when the assignment results in a physical and tangible outcome, such as building a structure in a shop class, it is easier for students to see the fruits of their effort. Taking pride and ownership of what they make pushes students to give it their best effort.

Technical Skills
One of the most valuable benefits of taking a CTE course is the technical skills that students learn.

This is the knowledge of how to actually physically do something. How to cut wood using a table saw; how to install a light switch on the wall; how to build a chair or a bird house.

Being able to work and create with your hands builds confidence and a “do-it-myself” attitude that benefits students’ confidence in taking on new tasks.
Beyond the in-school benefits, learning technical skills also helps prepare students for future careers. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other types of craft professionals are in high demand, earn good salaries and don’t require a four-year degree or the debt that comes with it.

Even if your child chooses not to pursue a career in a trade, those skills will remain useful throughout their lives. For example, DIY renovations and basic home repairs can be much easier (and cheaper!) thanks to what they learn in shop class.


Brooklyn Park MTA Track 1 participants measure and nail together interior framing for a ticket both. PC: Emily Sweeney

Communicating with your teammates, trusting them and making sure you’re doing your part is crucial to the success of any project, from developing a new product to building a house. A home can only be built if the framers, electricians, plumbers, roofers and others are all coordinating and in sync with one another and the features they are putting in place.

Team projects are a frequent component of career and technical education curricula. Joint efforts showcased in group projects often mirror real-world situations. Projects where individuals are able to contribute their unique talents can lead to creations that were not possible if only done alone.

Students also can learn about teamwork through CTE course collaboration with other programs within the school. The Minnesota Trades Academy, Construction Career Foundations’ paid summer internship program for high school students, is taking shop course objectives and building a ticket booth for Brooklyn Park High Schools’ sports complex. Understanding the scope of a project, following timelines and delegating tasks involve both teamwork and communication skills.

Problem Solving
Problems and unexpected challenges sometimes arise both in the classroom and the real world. Being able to look at a situation, evaluate all options and find an answer to a problem can be a challenging skill to master and meeting those challenges head-on and finding a solution is another critical skill that shop class can help to teach.

CTE provides a great avenue for practicing creative problem-solving and critical thinking, especially when the problems aren’t limited to pre-written questions and multiple-choice answers. CTE courses showcase how problems arise out of unexpected circumstances and courses support that there are many different routes to a positive outcome, making the experience richer and more relevant.

Shop Class: Making Students Career-Ready
If your local school offers training in carpentry, masonry, electrical or another trade, give them serious consideration for your student or child. On top of the technical skills they will learn, they will also be better prepared for any job they may pursue in the future thanks to developing those career-ready skills. For more information on careers in construction visit ConstructionCareers.org.