Removing Assumptions: A Construction Site Visit Reveals Skills Needed to Succeed

 

When I walked into the Mind Springs construction site in Grand Junction, Colorado, I anticipated seeing a few things typical of a construction site - steel tools, wheelbarrows, that sort of thing. I didn’t know that I would learn about how anti-ligature doors and appliances work - or even the definition of “anti-ligature.”

I learned those things and much more while touring the site with FCI Constructors and the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship a few weeks ago as we convened for our third meeting of the year.

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As a part of our work, the Fellowship supports teams of educators from across the state to learn about the shifting 21st century economy, related workforce demands, necessary employability skills, and models of college and career preparation to develop a variety of industry-aligned performance tasks. Part of our learning and focus is geared toward the exploration of Colorado’s four major industries: construction, advanced manufacturing, health sciences, and information technology. This is what led us to FCI Constructors and the Mind Springs construction site.

Part of our learning and focus is geared toward the exploration of Colorado’s four major industries: construction, advanced manufacturing, health sciences, and information technology.

Upon arriving, the construction site appeared just as expected - dirt here and there, heavy machinery lifting large objects, men and women in hard hards and orange vests, and a few port-o-potties scattered around the site. If we’re checking off cliches, the first impression managed to check many of my mental boxes.

My assumptions and impressions changed quickly.

FCI Constructors Project Manager Lance Kramer greeted us and quickly began to dispel the stereotypes of construction sites and workers. In a matter of 10 minutes, Mr. Kramer spoke about the regional economy, mental health services, and regional impact of not only construction jobs, but also the mental health facility that he’s leading the construction of.

“I was very moved by our [Mr. Kramer’s] commitment to the hospital wing, and the evident passion, pride, and care FCI brings to their work,” said Fellow Marie Kaufman, an educator from Skyline High School.

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Marie’s statement resonates with my own misplaced assumptions about construction and construction workers. I didn’t consider or expect to learn about the regional economy, let alone come away with an understanding the mental health field and services in the greater Western slope region while visiting with the folks at FCI. But I came away with a greater appreciation and understanding of what it means to be an employee in construction. To succeed in this field, employees not only have to have the direct knowledge of construction, project management, geometry, welding, electrical work, etc. Construction employees must be dialed into the purpose of the project; there must be some knowledge of the fields the project is servicing; and employees must be able to collaborate with the community, communicate with each other and the customer, and work as a team to successfully complete the project.

Some of those “Essential Skills” seem obvious. But the overriding skill or factor was noticeably empathy. These folks, construction employees, knew they were providing a service to their community because of the glaring need for a mental health facility.

Construction employees must be dialed into the purpose of the project; there must be some knowledge of the fields the project is servicing; and, employees must be able to collaborate with the community, communicate with each other and the customer, and work as a team to successfully complete the project.

As I left the Mind Springs site and reflected on my time there, I began to realize that this visit had shifted my mind: Construction work is much more than swinging hammers, laying concrete, and wearing hats. It’s about community planning and development, project management, and societal awareness.

When I think about this in the context of creating authentic, industry-aligned performance tasks, I now know the tasks we’re developing must including cross-sectors skills and knowledge. I know they help students build Essential Skills. I know these performance tasks and other instructional tools and resources must support students to gain a fuller and clearer understanding of what careers in Colorado actually look like.

Quite simply, the Colorado workforce depends on students developing the skills and awareness to succeed in these industries.

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Lance Hostetter is the Program Manager for the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship.

 

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