That’ll Learn ’Em: ABC's 2023 Craft Instructor of the Year, Gabriel Galvan
Gabriel Galvan’s grandfather wasn’t even trying to get his young grandson interested in construction. He was just quietly spending time with the five- or six-year-old boy at his home in Converse, Indiana.
“I have vivid memories of sitting in my grandpa’s shed with him, with a coffee can of nails and screws—just random stuff—and not building anything, just driving nails, screwing in screws,” Galvan says, “and him just kind of sitting there, not really saying anything, not training me. Just being there with me in that setting.”
Galvan draws a direct line from that moment, through the next 30 years, to his time in the Army and his career as a construction business owner and a trades instructor—all the way to the 2023 Craft Instructor of the Year Award. “If it wasn’t for my grandpa doing that, I wouldn’t be here; I wouldn’t have been as successful as I’ve been,” says Galvan, director of the ABC Indiana/Kentucky Chapter’s Construction Prep Academy. “It’s crazy for me to think that he would’ve been such a great influence with something so small—like, ‘Go ahead and play in the shed and hammer some nails.’ And here I am today.”
TO IRAQ AND BACK
Galvan’s grandfather may have struck the match, but it was his high school that fanned the flames. At a time when many school districts were doing away with vocational education, Tucker Career & Technology Center in Marion, Indiana, still offered “the traditional kind of CTE construction training program,” Galvan says, and “that really sparked in my mind: This is the path that I’m going to go into.”
He did that for two years, spending half of each school day with the program, which took students to an active jobsite where they worked on a new house—“the whole process, foundation, framing, wiring and plumbing, all the finishes.” Outside school, he picked up work with area contractors whenever he could. Between junior and senior year, he enlisted in the Indiana Army National Guard—again the influence of his grandfather, who served in the Army—and completed basic training. Not long after graduating from Tucker, he was deployed as a carpentry and masonry specialist with the Guard to New Orleans, helping with the response to Hurricane Katrina. He returned home after a few months, then within the year found himself on active duty in Iraq, where he served for a year and a half.
Barely 21 when he returned to the United States, he was back on reserve status and ready to begin his civilian career. Almost immediately, the phone began ringing. A trusted teacher from Galvan’s high-school construction program was talking him up as “a good guy who can come and repair some shingles or fix some siding and do odd jobs here and there.” Galvan took the jobs, mostly piecemeal work at first, but pretty quickly he saw where it was headed. “Things started to build to where I wasn’t just patching some shingles or some siding,” he says. “Now it was, can you do my whole roof? Can you build a whole house for me? Can you do a room addition for me?”
The answer was always yes, to the point where Galvan finally realized, “I might as well do my best to make it legit,” he says. “So, here I am, 21 years old, trying to start a construction business with no business education behind me, just kind of going off of things I’ve seen in the past and leaning on the contractors that I worked for previously.”
At that point, his youth worked to his advantage. He didn’t have a family or a mortgage, so making money wasn’t as important as simply making a living doing something he loved. “That’s what really helped me excel, because I didn’t have to worry about profitability at that point,” Galvan says. “It was just about the craftsmanship of what I was doing, and then branding and marketing took care of themselves because that was my focus.”
A NATURAL PASSION
Keep in mind, we’re still in Galvan’s early to mid-20s. We haven’t even gotten to the “instructor” part of the Craft Instructor of the Year’s story. Although, truth be told, that also happened faster than you’d think.
In 2011, the teacher who had run his program at Tucker retired. When the replacement teacher left after about two years, the school asked Galvan if he’d be interested in applying for the position. He was, he did and he got the job. Suddenly, he was running the very CTE program that launched him into construction—and, as is his way, he immediately went all in. “I knew I wanted to create a partnership that was going to enhance the training that we were doing,” Galvan says, “so I reached out to the ABC Indiana/Kentucky Chapter and said, ‘I’d like to partner with you to sponsor our NCCER curriculum.’”
That was his first experience with ABC but far from his last. With the partnership in place, Galvan became a carpentry instructor for the chapter’s apprenticeship program, teaching in the evenings while continuing to run the high-school program full-time. Then, last year, ABC Indiana/Kentucky asked him to run its Construction Prep Academy, which offers trades instruction and training to high-school juniors and seniors. It was a logical next step for Galvan, who considers this latest job a reflection of his “natural passion for the industry,” he says. “We have an industry that’s so important—it literally builds our nation—so how can I bring people into this workforce to sustain that great need?”
That’s something he thinks about in his own life as well. He still lives in Converse, where he has four children, ages 3 to 9, and while he wants all of them to do whatever they’re passionate about, he sees how they light up “when they see a drill or a hammer or something like that. I think, just naturally by me being their father, they’re going to develop that passion early on.”
Soldier, craft worker, business owner, teacher, instructor—for Galvan, every phase of his career is rooted in the same foundation. “Whether it’s been managing a business, whether it’s been in the Army or in the classroom, it’s never been about, I want to do my best so I can be recognized by those around me,” he says. “It’s always been, I want to excel so my customer has the best product, so my students have all the information they need to be successful, or the people I’m training in the Army, when they potentially go into combat, are able to survive and accomplish their mission.”
Chris leads Construction Executive’s day-to-day operations—overseeing all print and digital content, design and production efforts, and working with the editorial team to tell the many stories of America’s builders and contractors. An experienced association magazine editor, writer and publications strategist, he is a graduate of Saint Joseph’s University and lives in Arlington, Virginia.