Havre Daily News
A proposed carpentry program at Montana State University-Northern could become the “third leg of the stool” of trade programs at the college, technical sciences dean Greg Kegel said this week.
Kegel and others will go before the state Board of Regents in May to seek approval for the program. If the regents OK the initiative, MSU-N will offer a one-year certificate and a two-year associate of applied sciences degree.
Northern and state technical colleges in Billings, Butte and Missoula received a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the state Department of Labor to help fund the programs, Kegel said.
Each school will offer identical courses, Kegel said, but will develop their own niche programs to complement the carpentry degree. A steering committee charged with developing the program will meet Tuesday in Helena to discuss the curriculum. Kegel said he hopes to begin offering classes in the fall.
The basic program will cover framing, roofing and other trade work. For a specialty, Northern is considering courses in advanced cabinetry and countertop work, along with high-end concrete finishing, Kegel said.
The aim of the carpentry program is similar to that of the “stool's” other two legs - a successful plumbing program that began last year and an electrical program set to begin in earnest next fall. The goal is to combat a growing trend: a shortage of trained workers in the building trades, Kegel said.
Local contractor Brad Lotton wrote one of about a dozen letters of support for the carpentry program.
“We're short on trained people, and we could hire a couple of guys right now if we could get some experienced help,” Lotton said Thursday. “We're not finding any guys with experience or training. We do hire some and train them ourselves, but it'd be better if they came with some basic knowledge.”
Kegel said carpentry programs have been reduced or eliminated at many smaller high schools in the state. That has, in turn, reduced the number of students who are aware of trade career options. Higher and higher numbers are attending four-year universities to earn degrees in which job opportunities are scarce, while contractors in the state are finding it harder and harder to locate trained workers, he said. There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of construction projects held up in cities across the state because companies don't have the workers to complete them, he added.
“We're going to have many, many thousands of jobs without being able to fill them,” Kegel said. “It's a crisis the whole industry is looking at. Is the system we have now adequate? Right now, the answer is no.”
Havre High School offers a woodworking program, principal Jim Donoven said. More than 65 juniors and seniors are enrolled in the classes, he said. Students learn the basics of carpentry and build storage sheds as class projects.
Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said some of the vocational students go directly into the work force, while others go on to study at technical colleges.
Lotton said he has hired workers coming out of HHS, but remembered at least one who moved on to the North Dakota State School of Science to earn a degree.
“They train these people (in North Dakota), but they're not coming back to Havre, Montana, when they graduate,” Lotton said.