Staff photos by Allison Potter
Cape Fear Community College carpentry instructor Frank Holt, left, helps student Jason Moore frame a house on Westgate Road.
By the end of this semester, Carolyn Saunders will have a new home. She won’t pay a dime.
The home will be paid for by a state-funded grant awarded to Cape Fear Community College’s construction management program, and will be built by CFCC students in their first semester of the program. The grant provides housing for qualifying low-income individuals.
“It’s a really great way to teach our students, and get them involved in the community,” said John Begue, lead instructor for CFCC’s construction management program.
The program was created in 2009 and currently has 54 students enrolled. The program typically graduates 15 students per semester. There are no prerequisites past a high school diploma or GED.
“We get a wide variety of students, anywhere from fresh out of high school, never having worked in the industry, to students who have worked in the industry until they were affected by the recession and chose to come back to school,” Begue said. “Some are currently employed and just looking to enhance their education and expertise.”
The first semester of the construction management program is designed to give students hands-on experience in the field, and to help them decide if a career in construction is really what they’re looking for.
After that, students move to the classroom to learn construction techniques, materials and methods before moving into supervisor classes where they learn everything from public relations to building codes and the permitting process. An emphasis is placed on modern green-building techniques. When students graduate from the program, they are ready to take the lead on a variety of construction projects, and the local building community has noticed.
“Our graduates are very fortunate our community has begun to really embrace our program,” Begue said. “We’re having a lot of success in placing students in internships. Almost every student who wants to be in an internship can find one.”
Begue said the internships the students were landing typically paid between $10 and $15 an hour, and recent graduates were receiving salaries between $28,000 and $40,000.
“The amazing thing,” Begue said, “and I don’t want to jinx myself, but right now, 100 percent of our graduates are employed in the industry. Even during this recession, where parts of the country are having trouble finding jobs for the trades our students are learning. I think what’s happening is they realize this is a way for them to analyze candidates for their positions. If a candidate survived two years of our program, that means they’re serious about their industry. They truly want to be there.”
Recent graduates have found positions with commercial construction companies such as Parker Construction Group, Shelco, Penton Development and Bryan Humphrey Design and Construction.
Begue said he partially attributes the ease with which recent graduates are finding jobs to an improvement in the local housing market.
“One of the things we do is we analyze data from different municipalities and track trends in construction,” Begue said. “We’ve been tracking New Hanover County since December. They have a 20 percent increase in permits and inspections issued compared to this time last year. You hear a lot of things on the news, but as far as actual real data, that’s the first tangible sign of improvement I’ve seen.”
When Jim Parker was laid off from his job at a local pest control company in 2009, he decided to go back to school to build a better life for his wife and baby son.
“I didn’t see myself crawling under houses and killing bugs for the rest of my life,” Parker said.
After graduating from the construction management program, he was able to secure a position with Parker Development as a project manager.
“[The construction management program] does a really good job of preparing you for a management role in the construction industry,” Parker said. “I learned a lot that I didn’t really realize was in the industry. The estimating classes, the computer side of it all. It prepares you for what’s actually out there. There’s a lot more to it than just digging a hole and knocking down some trees.”
Parker recently received CFCC’s graduate of the year award. He attributed this to his grades, and his willingness to help younger students learn. His 3.5 GPA qualified him to work as a tutor for the construction management program.
“Jim was what we call a non-traditional, older student,” Begue said. “Jim came here, got his degree and really succeeded.”
At 29, Parker said he plans to remain in the construction industry as long as he can still make money doing it.
“This is what I really like to do,” Parker said. “I plan on staying here as long as I can.”