Gallatin College MSU's construction certificate program

Two students in Gallatin College MSU’s construction job site readiness certificate program complete work on a shed as part of their hands-on learning.

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With construction in Gallatin Valley booming and the demand for construction workers growing, Gallatin College MSU designed a program to introduce people to the construction field.

Over the last weekend, the first round of participants in the job site readiness certificate program put new knowledge to the test in a hands-on workshop building a shed and learned about the range of career possibilities in the field.

“It’s an opportunity to get some people who might not look too closely into construction trades to test the waters and see if they like what they’re doing,” said Frank Harriman, instructor for the program. “The program is designed to build confidence and if we can build confidence and teach the trade, there’s a good chance they’ll continue in it.”

Two students — one a high school student and the other a single mother — were the first to complete the program through Gallatin College, which included 30 hours of online learning and 15 hours of an onsite workshop.

The online learning covers workplace safety, framing, concrete work, print reading and understanding different construction materials. The workshop allows students to put that knowledge to use by framing and building a shed that uses the same skills needed to build homes.

The $750 course fee includes the online instruction, hands-on workshop and a 20-piece tool set.

The certificate program is a collaboration between other two-year colleges in the state, including Great Falls College, Missoula College, Billings City College at MSU and Bitterroot College.

The partnerships allow students to take the online course from anywhere and sign up for the hands-on segment at a college that fits their location and schedule, Harriman said.

“One thing that all five schools is committed to is the cost of the program shouldn’t be a hurdle for anyone,” he said.

Harriman said the need for carpentry and other trade skills like plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning in the Gallatin Valley has increased in the past year or so.

“It’s certainly magnified now but there’s always been a need for it,” said Harriman, who has over 40 years in the construction field.

Anna Reardon, Gallatin College MSU’s outreach project manager, said the college has heard from construction companies who asked for trade programs to help fill the need for qualified employees.

“Bozeman is exploding with new people and with a heavy demand on housing, there’s definitely a shortage of workers to help build everything,” she said. “…We’re hoping we can help out those efforts to provide some great employees who have skills the first day on the job.”

The program has had companies reach out to make connections with graduates of the program, and a couple employers have expressed interest in using the program as training and orientation for their new employees.

Statewide, Reardon said they’ve found people who are taking the course are more interested in the industry and are dedicated to learning more about the field.

“It’s kind of nice to know they’re potentially hiring someone that has an interest and are not just there to make some money for a short amount of time,” she said.

One employer, R&R Taylor Construction Inc., reached out to Gallatin College and offered a scholarship to a student in the certificate program.

Amber Hale, office administrator for R&R Taylor, said the company is focused on showing people there are career opportunities in the construction field via trade schools and outside of a four-year university.

“It definitely gives people, especially youth, a set of skills under their belt and puts some skills on a résumé,” Hale said.

R&R Taylor set up a recruitment table at one of the high schools in Bozeman to encourage interested students to apply for a job during the summer. They got three interested students, who, Hale said, have been dedicated workers.

“The industry is definitely in need of workers,” Hale said. “… It’s been a big struggle to get workers.”

Not only is there job security with the growth of the valley expected to continue, but there are also opportunities for advancements in the construction field, Hale said. Two of the four owners of R&R Taylor’s started as laborers.

R&R Taylor also partners with the state of Montana to offer carpenter apprenticeships. But not having a trade school close to Bozeman has been a struggle for people completing the apprenticeships, Hale said. Instead of having a dedicated learning space to complete some of their classes, they have to go home after working 10-plus hours a day and study on their own.

“It definitely would be great to have a place for them to have a concentrated study area,” she said.

The shorter certificate program is a first step in a push at Gallatin College to begin offering a full construction trades program.

Part of that includes launching a heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, or HVAC-R, program in the fall, offering a one-year certificate and two-year degree program. Registration is open for the first class of student for the one-year program.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry classified HVAC-R as an under-supplied occupation in the state, but one that will have the highest demand through 2027 in the Bozeman region.

While HVAC-R courses can be offered in smaller spaces, a full construction trades program will require more space.

“We can’t do the shop environment for the hands-on portion in a small space,” Harriman said. “… Having these opportunities to partner with the industry will give us the chance to have a full program.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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