In its second year, a three-week construction camp offers young students a survey of the trades

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian told students how proud he felt as a child visiting strings of homes his uncle and grandfather had built in Fresno, Calif. Avakian worked as a hod carrier as a young adult before becoming a civil rights lawyer.

Dressed in neon vests and hard hats, 12 teens and twenty-somethings tour the Sandy River Bridge project.

The Hamilton Construction site beside the Troutdale Outlet Mall nears completion in the next year and brought to life an “edible bridge project” of marshmallows, skewers and candy bars.

“Getting into this line of work, you earn enough of a living to take care of yourself and your family the rest of your life,” said Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. “You become a part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of people in a real career.”

The Monday, July 15 field trip to the Sandy River Bridge project marked week two of Construction Camp, a three-week event hosted by the Northwest College of Construction.

In its second year, the camp exposes young people to nine different trades, with the goal of attracting future workers to fill a construction labor shortage in Oregon.

“We’re starting to see a turnaround after five years, and it’s great to get young people involved and prepared to join the work force,” said Angela Dunson, a tile installer and instructor. “We see a lot of college readiness, but not as much push for the trades. This is a crash course to let students decide if they want to get involved.”

Following the 2008 recession, 39,000 construction jobs were eliminated and unemployment in the field reached 40 percent, according to numbers from the Oregon Labor Market Information System.

With a rise in the retirement of baby boomers, the number of construction jobs in Oregon are predicted to increase by 18,500 in the next six and a half years.

In partnership with Constructing Hope, the Youth Employment Institute, Hamilton Construction and Oregon contractors, Construction Camp is paving the way for the next generation of construction workers.

And there’s good reason for the next generation to explore a career in construction. The average annual salary in construction — $50,606 — is $6,333 more than the state average, and the 2013 Oregon Legislature has approved $7.5 million for career and technical education, nearly quadruple the amount in 2011.

Over three weeks, Construction Camp covers light equipment operations; iron work and concrete finishing; welding; First Aid and CPR; masonry; carpentry; labor and pipe laying; paving; and heavy equipment operations.

The camp focuses on each trade for about two days and offers a corresponding field trip for each trade, said Tim Mosterdyke, director of education for Northwest College of Construction.

On Wednesday, students took a pre-tour of the Street of Dreams, nine innovative homes boasted as “the Stonehenge in West Linn.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A 2010 Centennial High grad, David Fullerton, 21, had only taken wood shop before participating in Construction Camp. He is considering whether to enter a pre-apprentice program through Northwest College of Construction in tiling or heavy machinery.

David Fullerton, 21, who grew up in Gresham and graduated in 2010 from Centennial High School, was drawn to the camp after contemplating a career change.

From his role as a personal assistant at a home residence, he hopes to transition to heavy machinery or tile installation.

“I hadn’t taken more than woodshop before this camp,” Fullerton said as he installed black bathtub tiles on a wall.

For Troutdale resident Bryan Pacheco, 19, Construction Camp couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

Recently released from a serving a year sentence at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility, Pacheco’s parole officer connected him to the program.

Pacheco plans to enroll in Mt. Hood Community College’s mechanic program this fall, and hopes to gain experience in a variety of trades, while honing his rapping skills.

“This is a good opportunity to prove to him he made the right choice to send me home,” Pacheco said. “I want to change my ways and protect what I’ve got now.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Bryan Pacheco, 19, was released from Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility late last month and sees the construction camp as way to move his life forward and explore the trades. This fall, he plans to enroll in the mechanic program at Mt. Hood Community College.

At the Sandy River Bridge site, students learned about construction safety and gear and received an overview of the project by Project Manager Joe Hampton and other Hamilton officials — the drilling of shafts and building of the foundation for the westbound bridge.

Speaking to students, Avakian recalled the pride he felt as a child, touring a string of houses his uncle and grandfather had built in Fresno, Calif.

Though he went on to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney, Avakian spent his early adulthood as a hod carrier, or mason’s assistant, a backbreaking skill he said still benefits him today.

“When you get into a craft like this, you become a skilled tradesperson,” Avakian said. “Every church, every school, every 7-11 was built by skilled craft people. You’re not just making a good living, you’re contributing back to the world in a special way nobody else can.”

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