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Concrete Skills: Jamestown Schools, BXST Collaborate On Developing A Strong Workforce

It’s 1 p.m. on a Friday at the Innovation Center at Rogers School in Jamestown, New York. While the day, for most across the Jamestown Public Schools is nearing its end, the work is just beginning for students in Daryl Damcott’s Jamestown High School carpentry class. 

Ten students exit a bus from the high school, arriving at what Damcott, a JHS technology teacher, and Paul Andalora, a Builders Exchange of the Southern Tier-sponsored instructor, hope will be the first of many “work sites” to come in their young careers. 

“The goal is to get kids involved with real-life projects,” said Damcott, who has also spent 25 years working in construction. “As much as we can, we’re trying to make things, even when we’re talking in theory, as hands-on as possible. It’s all about taking the theory and putting it into practical application as quickly as we can to make that information and knowledge more concrete.” 

The Builders Exchange of the Southern Tier partnered with JPS to enhance the class, which Damcott has taught for the last 13 years, after receiving workforce development funding from the City of Jamestown. Damcott and JPS Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker welcomed the opportunity to bring this partnership with the exchange’s NCCER Accredited Trades Program to the Innovation Center.

“This program, which is grounded in a partnership between JPS and a well-respected construction industry advocacy group in the Builders Exchange, is among the first few programs taking place at the new Innovation Center,” Whitaker said. “Like other programming there, we are eager to support experiences and explorations in career development for students, and are delighted to see how well this partnership is flourishing. Providing support to our local and regional workforce is one of the major tenets of this program. Our partners at the Builder’s Exchange have been extremely supportive of our kids, and Daryl’s expertise and experience has made this one of our most popular programs.”

Builders Exchange Executive Director Brad Walters believes the program can help solve one of the industry’s largest issues.

“For the past four years, the single biggest problem our members have been facing is their inability to attract and retain youth into the construction industry,” said Brad Walters, executive director of the exchange. “We were thrilled when the City of Jamestown asked us to put a program together and administer the grant. Dr. Whitaker and Mr. Damcott have embraced the idea and we currently have 10 students in the program's first year. Our goal is to keep the program moving forward even when the grant money dries up.”

“The Builders Exchange is thrilled to partner with the City of Jamestown and Jamestown Public Schools as we work together to introduce students to construction and at the same time address the critical need of bringing young people into the industry,” added John Healy, Builders Exchange assistant director. “The program gives students the opportunity to explore the potential of a career in construction and prepares young people for their first jobs in the industry. It will allow students to enter directly into the construction workforce, join a union-affiliated apprentice program, or pursue a construction-related degree in college.”

The course aims to streamline the apprenticeship process. Andalora provides instruction on Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) guidelines. Thanks to the Builders Exchange’s support, students will complete the class having knocked off their OSHA 10-hour course. 

“At minimum, a kid leaving here will have their OSHA-10 if they want to go out and work in the industry,” Damcott said. “An employer wouldn’t have to go out and send them off to a two-day training. They’ve already completed that with us.”

“Any young adult, male or female, could benefit from training like this,” Andalora said. “Over the next two years, we’re going to expose them to a lot. Any young adult coming out and thinking about apprenticeship and trade areas, anything in the construction areas to me is just wide open. Anything from project management to cost estimating to inspection work or just even the trades — there are a lot of opportunities available.”

The course takes place on the second floor of the Innovation Center, the former Rogers Elementary School which reopened at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year. The Innovation Center also houses the district’s aviation program and is the future home of an eSports program. Through this course, students have even had a chance to do minor renovations and improvements to their classroom space itself. 

“The biggest thing with coming up here has been, in the construction industry you work at whatever space you’re at,” Damcott said. “You don’t have a set up, designated shop that you’re working from. You’re working in the space that the work is being done, so to come here exposes kids to what a real environment is like. Your tools are portable, your materials are portable — you need to be able to adjust to whatever environment you work in.”

They also have been able to use the school’s ample greenspace to experiment with constructing a concrete pad. Later in the semester, they’ll also work to demolish and reconstruct a shed up at the district’s athletic complex. They are also hopeful for continued collaboration with the city. 

Jamestown Mayor Kimberly Ecklund called the program “a beacon of excellence.”

“By nurturing the talents of our youth, it not only invests in their future but also integrates them into the dynamic world of trades,” she said. “Through discussion with our local manufacturers, it is evident that the scarcity of skilled labor is a pressing concern. This program addresses this issue head-on by equipping our youth with vital trade skills, thus paving the way for meaningful employment opportunities within our community. It is a mutually beneficial initiative, enriching both the lives of our youth and the fabric of our community.”

Among the 10 students enrolled in the program currently, several have plans to pursue apprenticeships next year. The balance has been a captive audience that has signified interest in pursuing a construction career as well. 

“I’ve enjoyed the banter, the questions,” Andalora said. “They’ll ask what they can expect on a job site or what they will make in an hour. They’re valid questions. They should be asking those questions. When you’re in 11th or 12th grade, it’s hard to know what skills you’ll need. But through trial-and-error we’ll be able to provide these students through this program, it’ll help lead them to great things.” 

“To this day, I'm still finding out the new jobs and niche positions that exist in the construction industry and I’ve been working in it for nearly 25 years,” Damcott added. “And I’m still finding opportunities out there that I really didn’t know existed.” 

The whole intent is to continue to give back to the community through the workforce, Damcott concluded.

“We’re looking to help to fill the shortages in the construction field and make sure that the community is getting interested and educated students who are able to safely and efficiently do their job as quickly as possible,” he said. “If we can help expedite the apprenticeship process, it will allow these students to provide the necessary trade positions that are struggling in this area.”