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EDUCATORS EMPOWER STUDENTS TO SAY, “I CAN” TO CONSTRUCTION

Gregg Adler, Skilled Trades Educator at St. Paul Harding High School

Harding High School Career and Technical Education teacher Gregg Adler waits for his students to join a distance learning Google Meet session. As the mics turn on and class starts, Adler checks in with each student. He knows their favorite cars and what positions they play on sports teams.

After the check-ins he starts the day with the same reminder.

“Hey everybody, you may not know how to do something today but that’s why you’re here— to learn skills to make you self-reliant and employable,” Adler said. “Ask questions and remember, through learning these skills you can have a very successful career and productive, satisfying adult life.”

“I tell my students every day that these skills go beyond the classroom — that they are something you can do on the job and in your own home,” Adler said. “The biggest obstacle that prevents people from starting or attempting something is the fear of incompetence. As a teacher, it’s my job to change that narrative from a fear of incompetence to saying, ‘I can do this,’ and eventually, ‘I did this.’”

Adler encourages his students to take on challenges and embrace new learning opportunities and he leads by example. Adler has taught more than 30 different courses in his career. He began his career as an Agricultural Education teacher at Buffalo High School, in Buffalo, Minnesota, and has added technology, business and work experience licenses to his resume. This is his twenty-second year of teaching.

Adler assists a student in the woodshed during the summer 2019 Minnesota Trades Academy(MTA) construction internship camp. Adler has served as a camp mentor and workshop leader at MTA for four years.

There’s a reason students enjoy talking to Adler and sharing their goals with him — it’s because they feel empowered with each conversation.

“I tell my students that the skilled trades are more than a job. First, it’s a great career that will provide for you and your family and you can use those skills in your own home and to serve your community,” Adler said.

He said his courses at Harding are exploratory and geared toward students who may not be familiar with the construction fields at all.

“We start with the construction basics; safety, apply math and measurement to our projects,” Adler said. “For a lot to kids who haven’t ever held a tool before, the course can be intimidating but by taking hold of the opportunity to get hands-on experiences, the majority of my students leave class telling me ‘I’m good at this, I could do this after high school’ and that realization is huge.”

Practicing the Skills, Highlighting the Career Fields

Adler also prepares presentations for his students about the apprenticeship process, post-secondary education, career fields within the construction industry,  and the benefits of careers in the skilled trades.

“Many of my students are immigrants, or their parents have not gone to college or they work multiple jobs,” Adler said. “I preach ‘66 by 22,’ if you graduate from high school and invest one or two years at a technical college, within two years in a union apprenticeship program  program you can be making over $66,000 a year with benefits.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, in Minnesota, 29% of families with a single female head of household are in poverty. Nearly half, 48.2%  of households, pay more than 30% of their income for rent.

“Many of my students work jobs on top of attending school to support their families,” Adler said. “Giving our students opportunities and skills to be successful through an apprenticeship, where they are earning a living wage with the opportunity for regular raises, is one way we break the chain of intergenerational poverty.”

Partnering with Construction Career Pathways

“Within the online learning system, we are evolving our courses to fill the skills gap in America and meet the requirements of Minnesota’s future workforce,” Adler said. “We often partner with Construction Career Pathways and its website, ConstructionCareers.org, for career information and extracurricular activities that students can participate in throughout the school year to supplement their training.”

The Twin Cities-based nonprofit Construction Careers Foundation supports Minnesota educators such as Gregg Adler with construction career resources and connections that they, in turn, can use to inspire and prepare Minnesota’s next generation of construction professionals.

Construction Courses During the School Year, Minnesota Trades Academy in the Summer

At Harding, several students who have participated in the school’s construction trades classes have also joined the Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA), a summer construction internship program that develops essential skills and experiences needed for students to enter the workforce upon high school graduation with a high-paying career or prepared to enter post-secondary education.

Adler has served as a team lead and instructor at MTA for four summers.

“The opportunity is incredible,” Adler said. “High school sophomores, juniors and graduating seniors get paid to learn construction skills and work on real projects that positively impact their community such as as this past summer, installing a new concrete walkway for an elderly resident.”

Adler recommends his students participate in MTA because they earn more money per hour than most minimum wage jobs, the experience serves as a resume builder and the connections they make in the program prepare them for apprenticeships with a variety of local building and construction trades unions.

Construction Skills are Life Skills

“More than anything, I want my students to see that they can be successful in construction,” Adler said. “The skills they learn they will use in a career but also can be used around their house or in their neighborhood serving their community.”

Adler shares his own personal projects as real-life examples of how students can use construction tools at home. He tells them about his experiences restoring houses, where he installs plumbing, does electrical work and finishes flooring.

“There are so many construction careers available for young people who want to show up early, stay late, work hard, earn a good living and have pride in their accomplishments,” Adler said. “We need educators and counselors to serve as advocates for the construction field and mentor young people. All it takes is giving students the opportunity to learn about the apprenticeship process and some experience working with tools — those who take an interest and apply themselves will unlock their potential because they know they are capable of succeeding.”

Visit ConstructionCareers.org for more information about the apprenticeship process and the benefits of joining a union and starting an apprenticeship. Also resource the Careers page to learn more about the 30+ careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.