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Hands-on Learning

Students take the high road as apprentice laborers in the area of highway construction – March 25, 2019

Having a well-trained workforce is an essential part of any construction project. Here at Blackstone Valley Tech our course offerings have been carefully developed to challenge students to maximize their academic and vocational experiences. The fusion of academic and career technical learning gives our students a competitive advantage when they enter the workforce.


Braza Under the watchful eye of Tom Lemon, an instructor with the New England Laborers Training Academy in Hopkinton, MA, 17 juniors in our Construction Technology program participated in an intensive week-long pre-apprenticeship training program. This training is available to schools across the Commonwealth through The New England Laborers Training Trust Fund with a contract awarded through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. This pre-apprenticeship program is the largest in the state for the highway construction field.


“Given that the average age of most workers in the construction industry is in the mid-50s, we needed to address the aging workforce and the need for skilled laborers. We are trying to create a pipeline of tradesmen and women that are interested in establishing careers on MassDOT highway construction projects through this program," said Tom Lemon. “There are now more career pathways within the broad construction industry and Tradeswomen are establishing careers on MassDOT highway construction projects.”


“As a female in Construction Technology, I have learned a variety of very helpful skills and have explored many career paths in the industry ranging from labor work to management and design,” said Annabelle O’Reilly of Hopedale. “The Construction Program at BVT started with hand tool mastery and safety to ensure I respected the heavy machinery around me Oreilly before I used them. I love being in construction because after every project, I can step back and look at how far I have come. With my classmates and instructors supporting me and helping me grow as a craftswoman, I feel capable of so much, and I am grateful to have this hands-on learning experience.”


During this pre-apprenticeship training program our students learned industry-specific skills through various training modules such as work zone safety, how to line and grade paved surfaces, CPR/first aid and AED certification, and construction math that were part of this unique weeklong experience. Important life skills such as showing up on time and prepared to work when on a job site were also emphasized, which are all desirable skills to prospective employers.


Thomas Belland, Vocational Director at BVT shared this concerning statistic, “With an aging workforce in Massachusetts we had over 60,000 Licensed Construction Supervisors in 2010, and in 2019 we have just over 40,000. Blackstone Valley Tech and other vocational schools recognize this fact and we're responding with new programming."


“Having the chance to learn first-hand from some of the leading construction laborers in the Commonwealth is a great opportunity,” said Justin Braza of Milford. “I was able to gain real work experience which I enjoyed, apprenticeship hours, and CPR renewal & recertification all while still here in high school, which will help me in the long-run.Oreilly Lemon


Annabelle O’Reilly felt that the training was wonderful for her. She explained, “I was not given less opportunity or less labor work due to my gender; Mr. Lemon saw I was a carpentry student interested in gaining as much information and skill as possible. This allowed me to get a better sense of my interests in Construction. This equality is a core component of BVT, where nontraditional students are not out of the ordinary. I am grateful to see that the treatment on the basis of gender is not present in my school, nor in the industry. With more women being involved in nontraditional vocations, the unequal treatment among the sexes is disappearing.” 


The program concluded last week with Hands-on Concrete, a module, where our students under the direction of Tom Lemon constructed a form for a single concrete panel using one standard 2” x 4” x 8’ piece of lumber, nails and a hammer.  Nathan Curran of Millbury said, “It was a great time learning concrete work. I had an amazing experience and learned lots of new things.” He and several of his classmates said that having the chance to see and experience the work done by the laborers in person gave them valuable insight about the possibility of pursuing this industry as a career path themselves.