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Construction Trade Skills Academy


Responding to local workforce development needs and the need for additional affordab le housing in McDowell County and Western North Carolina, McDowell Technical Community College and Gateway Wellness Foundation have partnered to create a new Construction Trades Academy that will address both needs.

The new program is expected to enroll its first cohort of students in late January, 2022. Those students will train five days per week, five hours per day for approximately 16 weeks, with an opportunity to also enroll in a work-based learning program, working in paid positions directly for and with partners in the construction industry, including installation of manufactured housing throughout McDowell County and the surrounding area.

The homes students will help construct are part of a larger housing development project designed and sponsored by Gateway, in partnership with Dogwood Health Trust, to create affordable housing for low- income families and individuals. “As our community’s needs evolve, we must grow to meet workforce needs,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President, “We are thankful to Dogwood Health Trust and to our partners at the Gateway Wellness Foundation.

Our new Construction Trades Academy will be a viable option for short-term training that can lead to immediate job opportunities in our region.” The program will be initially paid for with grant funding from the Dogwood Health Trust, in partnership with the Gateway Wellness Foundation, who will manage the grant as well as perform construction management functions for the project. Total funding of approximately $176,000 will cover all faculty-related expenses for the first year of the program, a 15-passenger van, an equipment trailer, tools and equipment, and accreditation fees for the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).

“By becoming accredited by NCCER,” said Stacy Buff, Dean of Career and Technical Education, “our students will be able to earn four nationally-recognized, construction-related credentials that students can take with them wherever and whenever they apply for jobs in this field.” In addition to the “Core Curriculum,” students will become credentialed in “Carpentry Level I,” “Project Management,” and “Manufactured Housing Installation.”

Students in the Construction Trades Academy will be encouraged to also enroll in the work-based learning (WBL) program where they will work with residential and commercial building contractors to develop additional hands-on skills, particularly in the manufactured and modular housing industry. Gateway Wellness Foundation has already begun acquiring land in McDowell and Rutherford counties to construct standalone, single-family homes, as well as develop affordable housing communities, both for low income families.

In Rutherford County, for example, the Foundation will utilize students in the work-based learning program to install and/or construct 34 single-family housing units that will form an affordable housing community there.  Students will earn approximately $15-20 per hour while they are working on the homes. Even before the Construction Trades Academy begins in January, Gateway is already installing their first modular home in McDowell County on West Wilhemenia Street in Marion on a piece of property donated by the city of Marion.

On Tuesday, employees of ECE Builders, Inc. of Union Grove were on-location at that site with a crane operator from Statesville, NC, setting the new home in place with units constructed off-site by Kituwah Manufacturing of Cherokee, NC, a company recently purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

According to Angela Anderson, Vice-President of Gateway, the Foundation’s goal is to increase the stock of affordable homes in this area for low-income families, and the homes they are constructing will be sold to families who meet income guidelines established by the USDA 502 Direct Loan Program, through which the homes will be financed.

As an example, Anderson said that the program is aimed at the segment of the workforce earning between 29K and 44K per year (for a family of 1 – 4). As the program grows, individuals who want to learn more about affordable home ownership may contact Gateway Wellness Foundation by emailing [email protected].  “We are excited to partner with McDowell Tech and Dogwood Health Trust in funding the Construction Trades Academy at McDowell Tech and managing the housing development project that is associated with it,” said Norman Guthrie, Chair of the Board of Directors for Gateway Wellness Foundation. “Our goal as a board is to identify and implement constructive solutions to address community needs in areas like housing, education and job creation, and we are confident that this partnership will result in strong and measurable results in all three areas.”

Admission to the program is coordinated by the Continuing Education Department at McDowell Tech. There are no specific admissions requirements for the program, but students must officially apply and register for the program as soon as possible. Online registration will be available soon, but for now, students may register by contacting Buff at 828-652-0663 or by emailing him at [email protected] .

For students enrolling in the Construction Trades Academy for the upcoming semester, the college has Learn and Grow Scholarships and other funding to cover tuition and any books or manuals that may be required in the classes. “You can’t beat a program like this,” said Buff. “The training is short-term. Tuition and books are initially free, there is part-time, paid employment while you’re in school—if you choose to participate—and employers are clamoring to hire graduates with this kind of training. It’s a win-win for our community!”