“I’m looking for real-world, practical things I can bring to my students to use; something tangible and touchable.”

That’s what Hanna Burleson, a science teacher at RA Long High School in Longview, said she hoped to get out of a week-long Career Connect Southwest externship program this month that focused on opportunities within the construction industry. The CTE teacher was one of 15 math and science educators from across the region who spent the week of July 13 visiting school facilities, active construction sites and construction-related businesses in an effort to become better acquainted with the current and future needs of the industry.

“Instead of just throwing lesson plans together for students that may have potential but we’re not quite certain, we’re able to build functional lessons based on these experiences that we can use across different disciplines, in different classes,” said Burleson, following a tour of a school construction site in Kalama. “For example, I’ve been asking questions about drone usage, because that’s what my students will be learning … Being able to build those 21st Century skills in the classroom and then apply them to something like a construction site would be really amazing.”

During the course of the week-long program brought to the region by Associated General Contractors of Oregon, participating teachers practiced social distancing as they visited a variety of worksites and learned about the skills local employers are seeking in order for their new hires to hit the ground running.

According to Vickei Hrdina, ESD 112’s Director for Career Readiness and STEM Initiatives, 20 different businesses and organizations partnered with Career Connect Southwest in the effort, including ESD 112’s Construction Services Group (CSG).

“There’s a real labor shortage in construction services and our message to teachers in this externship is that this isn’t just about carpentry; there’s a need across the construction industry board for project managers, office people, HR, finance, plumbers, HVAC, you name it,” said Hrdina. “These are really stable jobs, especially in the school-building industry because it’s not dependent on the fluctuations of the residential real estate market.”

Like Burleson, Gali Gonzalez also teaches science at RA Long. She confessed that for students interested in construction work, it can be difficult to determine who they should talk to and which career pathway they should take.

“But this program is giving us something that we can actually take back to those kids and say, ‘So you want to be a plumber? Did you know there are 14 similar fields that make just as much money and that take just as much school?’” she said.

Both Burleson and Gonzalez said they appreciated having the opportunity to build relationships with the companies that partnered in the program. The teachers plan on asking those contacts to participate in a Zoom call or an in-classroom discussion with students in the future.

“I would love to have one of these businesses come in and give students a real-world problem to solve,” said Burelson. “When it’s something that students can relate to they are much more likely to engage.”