Preparing High School Graduates for Construction Careers

Construction worker cutting a sheet of plastics

This blog post was originally published on Breaking Ground: the NCCER Blog, and was re-posted with permission.

Patrick Durkin with some of his studentsTwenty years ago I was hired by the School District of Philadelphia to teach a building maintenance class at a special needs high school. After spending the previous eighteen years working as a carpenter in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, very little in my past prepared me for the task I was about to undertake. Although I was a graduate of the carpenters union apprenticeship program and had journey-level experience and National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) certificates to go along with my bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, my only classroom experience was as a student.

Like many rookie career and technical education (CTE) teachers, I entered my new career with a number of preconceived notions. I quickly found that I not only didn’t have all the answers, I didn’t even know the questions. As time passed, I found that like the process of becoming a carpenter, the teaching process was much the same. It takes years after the learning phase is complete to become fully competent in each profession.

When I started my position at Swenson Arts and Technology High School, I began looking for a curriculum that would offer industry recognition, help improve dismal NOCTI test results, be engaging to students and allow me to bring regimentation to my program. With the guidance of the good people at our local Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) chapter, I was introduced to NCCER’s curricula and ready to implement the change that was needed to bring our program forward. NCCER’s Core Curriculum, Carpentry Fundamentals and selected modules from Carpentry Level 2, along with administrative and student buy-in, provide the tools to meet demand by the state and school district to provide high level academic infusion into CTE programs.

Student building a small wooden tableOur students take pride in their success and the rigor of the program. They know they are learning what it takes to obtain a professional career in the industry. The NCCER modules they complete at Swenson are accepted by the local ABC chapter’s apprenticeship program and convert to college credits through the local community college, if desired. The program also allows me to cater instruction to the needs of students at all levels. With a willingness to learn and the effort to persevere, our students have experienced great success. At Swenson, we have the luxury of allowing our students to receive their academic coursework and CTE instruction under the same roof. This allows our math and literacy teachers to infuse CTE related information into their curriculum where possible and the ability and time for me to coordinate with the academic teachers by sharing strategies concerning individual students.

As one school year ends and the planning for the next one begins, the local construction forecast has turned from bleak to terrific. Our industry partners are anticipating record growth and expanded opportunities for our young graduates. With NCCER credentials in hand, our graduates are far ahead of the competition for rewarding and sustaining careers. Furthermore, they enter the industry with a clear vision of the opportunities to advance as far as their dreams and hard work will take them.

About the Author
Patrick Durkin

Patrick Durkin

Patrick Durkin is a senior career and technical education instructor at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Philadelphia. He has been an employee of the School District of Philadelphia for 20 years and a member of Carpenters Union Local 122 for nearly 40 years. Patrick is a graduate of the Philadelphia Carpenters JAC Apprenticeship Program and has his bachelor’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations from Pennsylvania State University. He also has his master’s degree in Curriculum Instruction Technology Education from Temple University. Patrick is certified in Carpentry and Building Maintenance from the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute and is both an NCCER and OSHA instructor.