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.