Ohio Construction Academy Offers High School Curriculum and Apprenticeship Instruction

When Bart Hacker was president of the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the first thing he did was meet with member companies and ask about their most pressing challenges. By far, the biggest issue construction firms had to contend with was the economic downturn and corresponding high unemployment. 

When Hacker assumed the leadership role at the ABC Central Ohio Chapter in October 2011, he did the same outreach exercise, but with a much different result. In this case, nine out of 10members complained about not having enough people to fill available jobs.

“We focus heavily on craft apprenticeship training, but we rely on member companies to hire those people and then bring them to us to train,” Hacker says. “We wanted to figure out how to be the mechanism to provide potential employees to our members.”

ABC Central Ohio zeroed in on deficiencies in high school technical training in the Franklin County area surrounding Columbus. Vocational programs either were nonexistent or focused on automotive and computer technology. And any students that found their way to apprenticeship training after finishing vocational school would have to start at square one because none of their credits transferred to the chapter’s Department of Labor-approved program.

The clear answer was to initiate training at the high school level, but how? Hacker’s staff began investigating the idea of opening a state charter school for students to earn a high school diploma while receiving up to two levels of apprenticeship instruction.

“The intent was to start a school years from now, but a consultant told us charter schools were on an upswing in Ohio. We could get a license and utilize our existing training space for high schoolers during the day and apprentices in the evening,” Hacker says. “We took it to our board of directors in December 2012 and they charged us with making it happen.”

By the following spring, the chapter secureda sponsor and executed a contract to start the Ohio Construction Academy (OCA). Governance was put in place in July and the first class of 30 students started in September.

Fast-Track Planning

As with most new initiatives, funding was a major component of the planning process. ABC Central Ohio committed $50,000 in the form of a loan to help the school get started, and it continues to cover the rent and staffing fees. Gale Frank is the school’s director, and David Hannah, Jr. is the onsite instructor.

The state provides a base amount of $5,700per pupil, which diminishes if a student enrolls partway through the year. On top of that, the academy qualifies for career technical dollars from the state because of its construction focus. That amount is calculated based on the amount of time a student spends on technical education (in this case, 30 percent). Additionally, about 85 percent of academy students qualify for state aid for children in economically disadvantaged communities.

“Overall, we get $6,000 to $10,000 per pupil from the state depending on a student’s background,” Hacker says. “If that doesn’t cover all the costs, we seek federal, state and private grants, as well as private contributions.”

Every charter school is required to have a sponsor to oversee regulatory compliance with the Ohio Department of Education. For the Ohio Construction Academy, that advisor is the Warren County Educational Service Center, which helped ABC Central Ohio identify curriculum vendors, set up food service, implement an accounting system, and determine the best approaches for meeting the state and federal governments’ requirements.

With those legal details in place, ABC Central Ohio could move on to the business of expanding its11,000-square-foot apprenticeship training facility to accommodate high school students. Ten member companies contributed about $150,000 in cash, labor and materials to renovate 7,000 square feet of the building for five new classrooms and separate school administrative space. All the work was completed in just three months during the contractors’ busy summer season. Companies assisting with the build-out included BiCon Services, Inc.; Claggett & Sons, Inc.; Claypool Electric, Inc.; Cleveland Construction; Echo 24, Inc.; Henry Painting Company, Inc.; Miles-McClellan Construction Company; Spectra Contract Flooring; and TP Mechanical Contractors. Dave Bush, 1999 ABC National Chairman and former owner of ADENA Corporation, also contributed to the project.

Meanwhile, Hacker’s staff began recruiting students to fill those classrooms. They reached out to several community organizers for help finding kids who weren’t likely to attend college and needed to learn a skill. Because the Ohio Construction Academy is apublic school, it cannot be selective about admission. If a student applies, he or she must be accepted, and enrollment is an open year-round process. The academy started with 30 students, lost about 12 due to truancy or significant behaArt Dickinson Photographyvior issues, and has since gained another 12. All are male and 60 percent are minorities.

“It’s a constant effort to go out to the community and identify students who are truly interested in the construction industry,” Hacker says. “As a new charter school, we have some kids who got in trouble with the law and can’t go back to their home school. OCA might be considered a last stop for them.”

Innovative Coursework
A non-traditional student body requires a non-traditional curriculum. The Ohio Construction Academy offers a blended educational model that has only been around for a few years. The core curriculum (math, science, history and English) is done through an online vendor, accessible 24 hours a day. Students are given a tablet computer with a paid Internet connection.

Because many of them have behavioral issues and trouble focusing, students are only enrolled in one core class at a time. They must complete four lessons per week before they can move on to another course. Every course consists of 36 lessons, so one class takes about two months to complete.

A volunteer tutor is available onsite five days a week for students who want help. Two days a week, students must come to the school for construction-related coursework led by Hannah, who also does apprenticeship training for ABC Central Ohio in the evenings. About 12 kids attend each day.

In addition to classroom work in the morning, students have lab time in the afternoon to learn basic skills. This year’s task is to build a two-story doghouse that will be auctioned off, with a prize going to the winning team. Students entering their second year will learn basic electrical and carpentry concepts. After four years and upon graduation, they will be able to test out of the first two years of classroom apprenticeship work, plus have their high school diploma. They also have the opportunity to earn credit toward an associate degree in construction technology from Zane State College.

“Between a student’s junior and senior year,the intent is to get them hooked up with a member company for a summer internship so they can be mentored within the construction industry,” Hacker says. “That way our members can evaluate the skills of students who have shown an interest in a construction career. If it’s a good match, they can hire upon graduation.”

Currently, students range in age from 15 to 18. Most are at least a year behind on traditional coursework (e.g., technically should be in 10th grade but actually perform at a ninth-grade level). Motivated students can catch up by doing additional lessons online at a faster pace. Students must graduate by age 21; if that doesn’t happen, they must withdraw and seek their GED elsewhere.

According to Hacker, about one-third of the student body has shown vast improvement, going from Ds and high truancy rates to Bs and working ahead on lessons. Another third is highly interested in the construction coursework, but still struggles to excel at the core curriculum. And the final third has no interest in school at all, and likely will withdraw at some point. 

“If we lose 10 students, our hope is the 10 replacements will be higher achievers so we lose fewer and fewer students overtime,” Hacker says. “If we could do five days of construction, we probably would have success beyond our wildest dreams. But they have to graduate from high school as well.”

Going forward, the recruitment process should start to get easier now that the school is established and operational. ABC Central Ohio plans to do more targeted marketing to other charter schools that end at eighth grade and let those parents and students know OCA is a viable next step. The chapter also is reaching out to principles, guidance counselors and the faith-based community.

Direct Connection
The ABC Central Ohio Board of Directors is “wildly supportive” of the academy, Hacker says, and the school has caught the eye of many politicians as well. For example, the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. John Kasich (R), who has expressed the need to expand career technical education, are interested in seeing the program succeed.

“They see the direct connection we have to the industry, instead of just training students and then throwing them out on their own,” Hacker says. “There is a huge political upswing to this school. Our local political influence is expanding because ofit.”

Despite intense opposition from the local unions, political entities that don’t typically partner with ABC have reached out to help the chapter promote the school.

“Every politician wants education to improve and they don’t care who’s doing it,” Hacker says. “We have an opportunity to make alliances on those grounds.”

Ultimately, Hacker’s goal is to get enrollment up to 100 so the program is more self-sustaining and depends less on outside financial contributions. Once staffing and finances are at a point where the school can operate independently, staff can incorporate field trips to ABC events and member jobsites/offices, bring in motivational speakers and eventually add more trade specialties.

“We are actively seeking ABC members’ support for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hacker says. “The Ohio Construction Academy is an innovative solution that will have a positive impact on workforce development.” 


Joanna Masterson is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org, visit www.constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.