PLAINS TWP. — Students training in any one of seven building -trade programs at Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technology Center should have better odds of landing a job in their field, thanks to endorsements by the Pennsylvania Builders Association, according to construction business owner Dave Balent, who helped review the programs.
“I always want to get kids involved,” said Balent, who runs an eponymously named construction company based in Exeter. “I know what’s out there as far as prospective employees, and sometimes it’s horrendous.”
Balent heads the local chapter of the PBA and said he decided to revive the endorsement program in the area after learning details about it at a state meeting. Too many students are coming out of trade schools either without the skills they need for a job, or with expectations regarding starting pay set far too high, he said.
“I got involved, and then a couple schools came up for endorsements from the state organization, and one happened to be Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technology Center,” Balent said. “I said, ‘That’s right in my back yard.’ ”
Balent was among seven people, each with different trade expertise related to the programs being reviewed, who visited the center.
“We did a curriculum review. We look to see what they are teaching. We sat in on classes, reviewed paperwork and books teachers use, how they taught, what they taught. We observed how they were teaching safety. We look at everything that needs to be done,” he said.
The review committee then took it’s findings to the PBA state board.
“They voted unanimously to endorse all seven programs,” Balent said, news he shared with the Joint Operating Committee that runs the center.
Tom Turnbaugh, the PBA director of the endorsement program, said there is a fee for the review: $1,500 for the first program and $500 for each additional. But once a program is endorsed it’s good for three years, and renewing endorsement costs $500 regardless of how many programs are involved.
“The program establishes a relationship between members of the local builders association and the school administration and the construction teachers,” Turnbaugh said. “In areas of state where there has been a long-standing relationship, those students participate in the builder shows, and can participate in competitions through the student chapter of the National Association of Home Builders.”
Students who complete an endorsed program and score competent or advanced in the assessments from the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute earn a certificate from the PBA, Turnbaugh said. The schools might also get surplus supplies from PBA member companies.
The seven programs endorsed were building and property maintenance technology, carpentry, electrical technology, masonry, plumbing and pipeline technology, residential construction and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and refrigeration).
Balent said one of the things that impressed him was efforts to give students realistic expectations. He cited the masonry class, where the teacher would construct a wall alongside a student and show how much faster he could work.
“He’d tell them it wasn’t because he was better than them, just that he had a lot more experience,” Balent said, then explain that’s why students can’t expect to be paid as much starting out as veterans.