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Construction opportunities abound for MCC graduates

Construction Tech 2015

MCC Construction Tech instructor, Russ Yarrow, working with students on the housing project last year.

For many years, Marshalltown Community College’s Construction Technology program has produced skilled carpenters that go into the residential, commercial and heavy construction industry. That’s not going to change anytime soon. According to recent statistics, students of the program won’t have much trouble finding a job after graduating.

In the past year in Iowa, construction employment has increased faster than any other sector by over 6%, increasing by 6,600 jobs (+9.8%). The growth in construction jobs since 2010 isn’t just the result of the housing boom. While the number of jobs in residential construction grew a respectable 10 percent between the low-point of the recession in 2010 and 2014, non-residential jobs rocketed up an impressive 21 percent over the same period.

“The construction industry is always looking for well-educated and trained help,” says John Mahlstede, Construction Engineer/Manager at Hay Construction, Inc. in Marshalltown. “By earning a degree from MCC’s Construction Tech program you have demonstrated to your future employer that you come to the job having already gained valuable experience and knowledge in the construction industry.”

MCC offers three one-year Construction Tech diplomas (Commercial Practitioner Track, Heavy Construction Practitioner Track, and Residential Practitioner Track), and three two-year Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degrees (Construction Tech, Construction Tech: Heavy Construction, and Construction Tech: Retail).

Residentially trained students (first year of the program) are prepared to work in the homebuilding and light commercial industry. Typically, graduates will be working locally for contractors employing three to 10 employees constructing houses or other types of wood framed structures. Some graduates eventually own their own company. Graduates of the commercial/heavy construction track work for construction management companies, interior finish companies, general contractors, specialty contractors, bridge building companies, and many other areas. Almost all commercial/heavy construction jobs come with 401k and health insurance benefits for the students entering that work.

A large part of the success of MCC’s program is due to its instructor, Russ Yarrow. “Russ has a passion for teaching the construction trades and thoroughly enjoys working with the next generation of carpenters,” adds Mahlstede. “His enthusiasm is evident in both the classroom and on the jobsite.”

Yarrow has been an instructor at Marshalltown Community College since 1999. During high school and college, he worked at Yarrow Construction (1976-1979), but later had to move to the commercial construction field at Cochran Custom Building in Des Moines due to the economic downturn. In 1983, he returned as Vice President for Yarrow Construction Inc., sharing a partnership with his brother. Then in 1999 he joined the MCC Construction Tech faculty.

“There’s no better time than now to be in the construction field,” says Yarrow. “Many people understand the residential carpentry, but it’s the opportunities in the commercial and heavy construction sectors that most people are not familiar with. Our program has received a steady stream of contacts from companies recruiting employees like never before. We’ve even been approached by the local union representatives because their ‘bench’ is empty.”

Although the main purpose of the program is to produce trained carpenters, many options are open to students graduating the program. A student completing the residential program can work in the homebuilding workforce, but will always be able to use the instruction for working on their own home doing remodel projects or additions. There is always the option to buy and flip houses if the student has an entrepreneurial edge.

Yarrow says one of the obstacles he faces is the potential ‘stigma’ attached to a one or two year degree from a community college. “Don’t get me wrong, a 4-year degree is a good thing, it’s just that not everyone is cut out for it. Many students don’t want the 4-year degree path, but still need training to become skilled in a trade that will lead them to a good future. A generation ago it was looked upon as a good career to become an electrician or plumber or carpenter or mason. Somehow that outlook has changed and the result is fewer students are entering the trades. Which is a shame, because the demand and opportunities are better than ever.”

According to statistics, there is a growing shortage of skilled carpenters in the state of Iowa and it’s predicted to worsen in the next 10 years. Yarrow says another reason for the shortage was the economic downturn in 2008, when many skilled carpenters left the industry and did not return. “The skilled labor workforce is aging and currently the shortage is projected to see 1,743 skilled carpenters leave the workforce through retirement each year through the year 2022. All the programs in the state, including organized labor, do not produce anywhere near that amount of trained carpenters. The demand and opportunities will increase.”

MCC partners with local high schools through articulation agreements and career academies to help students get a head start in their respective path. The students can take up to 22 credit hours for free through the career academy in the Construction Tech Program. In turn, UNI partners with MCC programs to offer continued educational opportunities if the student wants to pursue the 4-year track after graduation from MCC.

Students may enter the program in either the fall or spring term. Fall term classes begin Aug. 24, and spring classes start Jan. 11. There’s still time to enroll for fall term! More information on each Construction Tech program track can be found on the website, or by contacting instructor, Russ Yarrow, at Russ.Yarrow@iavalley.edu.

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