October is Careers in Construction Month, and during this tumultuous period of hiring and skilled labor shortages, we would like to highlight Balestrieri’s commitment to introducing Elkhorn High School students to the construction trades.

Elkhorn Area School District offers a variety of career based learning experiences where students can work in and learn more about a chosen occupational career field that is aligned with their academic career plan. Career and Technical Education Coordinator, Joanne Pella, and Technical Education Instructor Carl Bjorge, spoke with us this month to share some recent insights to the school’s programs and a growing shift in the student body’s interest in the construction industry.

“This is a state-certified co-op program offering students a sampling of what their career could be, and it’s been going on since the mid-seventies with strong community support for the program. Students must meet specific learning objectives with a minimum period of 9 months in the program, totaling 450 hours of on-site work, but a lot times employers include additional training,” said Pella.

A minimum of 5 employers a week are reaching out to Pella looking for candidates. The week of this interview along, Gateway Technical College had sent 4 students Pella’s way. Pella stated that construction, hospitality, and manufacturing areas are covered, and local companies in these industries are always looking to utilize students. Fortunately, student interest is meeting the demands of the current industry. “We average 25 kids in the program most years. We are pushing 60 kids right now,” said Pella.

“I’ve never been unsuccessful (placing a student). Some students excel in the field, but not a school setting. Students and parents are starting to see that college isn’t the only avenue, and the key is getting the parents onboard,” said Pella.

Students that have graduated from Elkhorn Area High School that were a part of the program recognize the advantageous and unique opportunity they had, and give back. “There’s a lot of return reach from former students once they move up the ranks,” said Pella, “One former student was placed at the Clerk of Courts, graduated, worked for an attorney, and is now in a hiring position.” Another student built her own insurance firm after working for a local insurance firm during her time in the program.

Technical Education Instructor Carl Bjorge leads the construction programs at Elkhorn Area High School, and spoke highly of the explosive interest in the industry. “In three years Elkhorn has gone from one or two construction classes to seven. We could justify five teachers (for technical classes). Kids want to build stuff,” said Bjorge.

Bjorge shared the hands-on programs and training students are exposed to in the technical classes, which include building dugouts for local baseball fields, sheds, introductory design work, framing, siding, and roofing, and sometimes plumbing. Students also compete in NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) competitions, and will compete again this year.

Current Balestrieri employees that have graduated from Elkhorn Area High School’s Career Based Learning Experiences program include Project Manager Alex Balestrieri, Logistics Coordinator Ty Garlock, and Environmental Technician Trainees Nolan Garlock and James Schultz.

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