Dave Snyder is a lucky guy. He loves his work. Dave is the lead instructor for the Building Trades program at Adams County Tech Prep, in Gettysburg, PA. And Dave believes in training young folks who are genuinely interested in the building trades.
Until 2006, Adams County, PA was the only county that did not have a tech program in its district. Smart taxpayers, seeing the value of investing in the trades, voted to fund Adams County Tech Prep which now offers six career and technical programs—Allied Health, Building Trades, Culinary Arts, Diesel Technology, Early Learning, and Law Enforcement.
Bob Dayhoff, the former Gettysburg High School shop instructor, had already paved the way—through his elective class—for students interested in the construction trade. Gettysburg School District invested in several lots near the school district and the building trades students were given the opportunity to build houses, from the ground up. Students in the program have now built six homes on the lots. After completion, the houses are put up for auction or sale. The money from the sale goes back into the building trade program and is used to purchase materials, tools, pay for subcontractors, and potentially invest in more land.
Students that participate in this two-year program receive nine community college credits. Students in the 11th grade spend all year in the classroom and the workshop, getting a broad overview of practices and techniques related to the residential construction industry. After being fully trained on the basic tools of the trade—including safe operation, students work with different mock-ups to understand measuring, framing concepts, rafter layout, blueprint reading, electrical circuits, siding and demo, masonry, heating and air conditioning, and finish carpentry.
Numerous tools are available for student’s use: table saws, miter saws, and coping saws, impact drivers, joiners, planers, screw guns—almost everything necessary to complete all the trades.
Students in the 12th grade head out to the field to get their hands dirty. Unless the school year ends before completion of the house, seniors actually work from foundation to finish, with Dave Snyder filling multiple roles: Course Instructor, General Contractor, and Lead Carpenter.
On average, there are about 14 juniors and 10 seniors in the program each year. An occupational committee within the district oversees the program while keeping up to date on best practices within the construction trade. They also decide what tools and materials are used in the class, establishing basic curriculum. Working with a team of local subcontractors, Dave fostered relationships with like-minded professionals who believe in the value of trade education—folks who are willing to work with high school students and reinforce the principle that training the trades is an imperative investing in the future of America.
In 2015, Adams Electric Co-Op Inc., a not-for-profit member-owned electric distribution utility, approached Dave and asked if he and his students would like to work on a house together. Adams Electric owned a lot and wanted to build a spec house that would be used to showcase the electrical and geothermal work they have been perfecting over the years. Construction began on the spec house in the Fall of 2015 and is now nearing completion: getting the job done right, while demonstrating proper techniques for students, takes time and attention.
After finishing the two-year program, Dave encourages students to continue their education at a local technical school or community college. Some students go straight to college and obtain a four-year degree in construction management, while other graduates hire out as apprentices with local trade companies.
Having worked in commercial construction, finish millwork, and as a residential builder, Dave embraces the value of hands-on training
Our program offers students a special opportunity: at a young age, they get their hands wet and dirty, they discover if construction is a path they want to pursue. Our students come to school less skilled because they spent less time ‘outside’ with their fathers or grandfathers, they haven’t learned how to change the oil in a car, how to fix a broken pipe, or how to read a tape measure.
In decades past, labor skills were often passed down from father to son, from journeyman to apprentice. That is no longer true.
And with technology changing the face of construction, we can no longer rely on tradition for training. Because of dedicated teachers like Dave Snyder, there is hope that the building trades will continue to earn respect and apprentices will find a profession where they can earn an honorable living.
Good article, as an alumni of a local trade school I support them 100%. I feel like the hard part though is supporting these graduates after they enter the carpentry trade, especially because many of them enter the non-union workforce. With wages stagnant for the last few decades here in the USA how can we make sure these young carpenters have the chance to succeed. Especially because the cities where building is hot are those same cities where the cost of living is skyrocketing.
Hi George, thank you for taking the time to read the article. Like many technical trades, it takes drive and determination to succeed and thrive in a trade that is still undervalued. Hopefully there will be a shift, starting at the high school level, towards bringing respect back to the “blue collar” worker.
A few years ago I was the instructor for a program in Northern California, sponsored by the Carpenters Union. The students went thru a basic pre apprentice carpenters program then had an introduction and some hands on in other trades, electrical plumbing Sheet metal, iron work, operating engineers, labors, concrete, etc. Students also were able to assist in some on site Habitat for Humanity building projects during class time. A study compared the earnings of a student who completed a union apprentice program Vs a student who attended a 4 year college program and had the average student loan debt, It found that the college graduate didn’t catch up to a journeyman , earnings minus loan payments until they were in their mid fourties, And I used to tell the students to continue their education, take some business classes, basics of construction and labor law, management and they could start their own construction company,
Hi Tim, I encourage all of my students not entering an apprenticeship program to pursue post secondary trade education. I do this because the Building Trades program is really an introduction into all of the residential trades. We do not have the time in a two year program to have them fully prepared in all of the trades. My hope in our program is to provide an introduction into the trades and let students determine which trade interests them the most. Even if a student tries Building Trades and doesn’t like it, I feel like that has been a success for them because it has helped them to rule a possible career before they have spent money on trade education. In addition, like yourself, I encourage any of my students going straight into the workforce or going to work for a parent in the trades to take some basic business classes to help them eventually run their own business. I think we all know excellent craftsmen that have gone belly up because of a lack of business skills. Thank you for taking the time to read the article about our Building Trades program!
Hi Tim. Thankfully there are many quality technical schools around the United States that offer an affordable education. Hopefully those schools, like the ones we profile in this magazine, will continue to gain support and be offered to high school graduates as an option, or alternative, that is just as respectable as a college education.
While I certainly commend Adams County Tech Prep for doing training for the trades, it troubles me that proper safety practices are apparently not being taught. While everyone is apparently wearing safety glasses in the video accompanying the article, it shows students on a roof without any fall protection, and students on the ground, where they could possibly be struck by items coming off the roof, are without hard hats. If we’re going to be doing training, it should be done properly, including proper attention to safety.
Greg, it is a relief to see them using their own common sense and not spending half the day getting suited up with fall protection on a 4/12 pitch roof. Good to teach common sense, how to get the job done quick, yet take safety measures when necessary.
Pierre, it takes no time to “suit-up” especially compared to the time it takes to recover from a fall from any roof regardless of slope. Yes, common sense is often forgotten but it is very hard to defend in a court case or a hospital room. These are importantly students who are learning the trade – inattention, too many people on the roof, inexperience, all create a situation that set my alarm bells ringing.
In Ontario it is illegal to work in a position of risk without fall prevention or fall protection – no negotiation, no judgement call. May be inconvenient but save lives and reduces injuries.
Wow! Very impressed with the school. I worked in the trades for 35 years as a Glazier. Safety is really something most don’t get until you see a accident that could have been avoided by such simple procedures. Work in the trade for 20 years max and then go into a job as a supt. or manager. This B.S. about going into business for ones self is what the larger firms prey on. We used to call it ‘churn them and turn them’. The best book I have read on this is ‘The Elements of Building’ by Mark Q. Kerson. On a large job the Supt’s were a wealth of information. Why, because they came into the job from the ground up.