One of a kind construction college in San Jose

October 23, 2008 6:54:10 PM PDT
The outlook for jobs is pretty bleak with several big companies like Goldman Sachs, Xerox, and Chrysler all announcing layoffs Thursday. So just where are the good jobs these days? You can find some of them at the new California Construction College in San Jose.

The construction industry may be hard hit now, but $50 billion in bond money to rebuild California infrastructure will create a renewed demand for skilled labor.

"Quite frankly, I believe that the one thing that's going to pull us out of this recession is construction, public works projects," said Neil Struthers with Building & Construction Trades Council.

Construction is generally a two-tiered workforce -- those who have hands-on experience and project managers with college degrees. However, what construction companies really want is employees who have it all.

"The most valuable guy to me is a guy that's done it and then I can teach him a few things that make him a valuable white collar employee for me," said Tony Mirenda, CEO of TBI Construction.

That is where a new pilot project comes in backed by contractors, educators and labor groups. The California Construction College at San Jose City College is funded by $1.5 million of public and private money.

"They don't have to choose between going to college and going into the trades. They can do both," said Michael Burke, Ph.D., president of San Jose City College.

The California Construction College is not job training or a vocational program. It's a way for people experienced in the construction industry to earn a four-year college degree.

This is the kind of program that would help someone like Bill the plumber. He is licensed with 13 years of work experience but no college degree.

"I would be able to start my own business or go into project management. It presents more doors opened to me," said plumber Bill Guthrie.

The new school starts in the fall of 2009 with about 30 students. All will have been through an apprenticeship program and be sponsored by their employer for higher education. It's the only program of its kind in the nation.

"We're the innovation place and that's true whether you're designing some high-tech thing or you're training the construction workforce of the future," said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose.

The concept is expected to be a model and duplicated elsewhere in California and other states.