Bellingham Technical College to offer construction certificate amid worker shortage

By Emily Hamann

Bellingham Technical College and the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County have teamed up to try to do something about the shortage of workers in the skilled trades.

This summer the college will teach a certificate course for anyone interested in joining the construction industry.

“We’re finding that hard here in Whatcom County,” Elliot Swaney, executive officer of the association, said, “to find individuals who have the skills to go on the job site.”

So the association worked with BTC to design a course to teach students basic skills in construction.

“Our hope, our thought, from the association side, was to let’s see if we can team up with BTC, let’s see if we can put together a certificate course that gets individuals who are interested in the trades to get the skills to go onto the job site,” Swaney said.

The course will teach the basics — construction site safety, how to use hand and power tools, and math needed for construction.

Fewer students are learning these skills in school now, Swaney said.

“When I was in junior high and high school, there was woodshop and metal shop,” Swaney said. “Those have been pushed aside for the high-tech careers.”

The course is aimed at recent high school graduates who might be interested in a career in construction, or anyone looking for a career change.

“These are the basics,” Swaney said. “We are hoping for these folks to get their foot in the door.”

The 90-hour course, which runs from July 9-Aug. 24, is accredited with the National Center for Construction Education & Research.

“BTC is excited to be able to offer this certificate to respond to the intense demand for skilled workers in the construction industry,” Walter Hudsick, vice president of academic affairs and student learning at BTC, said, in a press release. “Our goal is to provide our students training with a quick turnaround that gives them the foundation they need to go further in their education or enter the job market.”

After completing that course, students will also be able to enroll in a second, slightly more advanced, course.

Students in that course will use their skills to build a tiny house, Swaney said.

The hope from that, Swaney said, is that students will try their hand in all the different areas of construction, and decide which path most interests them.

From there, they should have everything they need to get an entry-level construction job.

“What our folks are finding right now is they have difficulty find individuals with the basic rudimentary skills in math, using the tools, how to frame of how to drywall,” Swaney said.

Melanie Dickenson, assistant controller of Mount Baker Roofing, has felt this firsthand.

“Most everyone in the construction industry, us included, has been progressively busy the past two years,” Dickenson said. “Our problem here is having enough skilled workforce in order to complete the work.”

Dickenson said the company has added to its benefits package, which includes fully paid medical, a retirement account, paid holidays and paid time off.

“We’ve added some of those benefits in the last year to retain our quality employees and ot hopefully attract more,” she said.

The company has had to become more selective with the jobs it takes on, she said, because it can’t find the workers.

Just to keep up with the work, it hires workers who don’t have the basic skills required for the job site.

“Which is not cost effective to the company,” she said. That means that the first week a new employee is on the job, they must spend training on the basics.

“It would be nice if they knew how to use the tools and follow the safety procedures,” she said.

She hopes the BTC course will help.

“If they’ve been through the program it would be nice to know that they already have these skills and they can just hit the ground running,” Dickenson said.

For more information on the course, email or call 360-752-8350.

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