EAST FALMOUTH, Mass. — For more than 10 years, Cape Associates has partnered with the carpentry program at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School to allow students to work with the North Eastham-based homebuilders while pursuing their studies. The arrangement allows the students to get on-the-job training and workplace skills to supplement their classroom and practical coursework at the Cape’s largest vocational school.
It’s also provided Cape Associates with about a dozen new employees over that time, said Lindsay Cole, the company’s human resources manager and a co-owner, with the former students advancing as far as the journeyman level after starting their careers as teenagers.
“We know them, they know us,” she said. “We’ve seen those kids move up the ranks. More and more it’s been so difficult to find carpenters on Cape Cod, especially now, so we just look at Tech and that program as a wonderful place to find them and help them grow.”
That’s why Cape Associates and many contemporaries in the homebuilding field are supportive of Cape Tech’s plan to build a new high school at its Harwich campus.
Critics of the project argue they support the tech school, its students and their accomplishment, but are concerned about the high cost of the building project and whether it’s necessary and worth the high price.
For companies in the Cape’s service and trades industries, Cape Tech and and the Bourne-based Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School are valuable pipelines for finding would-be employees who have already had a jump start on their training and know they are ready to start their career.
“Both schools are vitally important,” said Matthew Cole, Cape Associates president and CEO. “The construction industry on the Cape is a major component and important component to both the economic climate and economic development. It’s also a significant part of attracting people to the Cape — we build the vacation homes that people come to visit.”
But for Cole, it’s a vital investment in the Cape’s future livelihood.
“We need to build it, and we need greater participation from traditional high schools to help feed the right students to the tech school to increase enrollment,” he said. “The construction industry on the Cape needs new, fresh talent and there’s no better place for that to come from than the tech schools.”
Jay Frazier, who graduated from Cape Tech in 1994 and owns Platinum Auto Service in South Yarmouth, said the school’s graduates are taught the fundamentals of his trade, which is constantly changing.
“They’re taught the basic foundation, basic theory and the skills to be able to adapt and stay current,” he said.
In addition to Frazier and his wife, the business employs 16 people, including another Cape Tech alum; Frazier said he has employed other graduates from the school over the years.
The existing Cape Tech building is clearly out of date, he said.
“Even when we were there, that building was in need of some repair,” Frazier said.
It’s not properly laid out for modern vehicles and new designs, he said. And although there is a lot of concern for the project’s costs, people don’t understand that a tech school can’t be compared with a regular school, Frazier said.
“For us to be able to train hands-on, you need the space and the workshops,” he said. “All of those workshops need equipment. They’re very industry-specific the way the layout is.”
Another advantage of the new school is that it will be set up in pods that will allow more collaboration, Frazier said.
“All of your academic classes will be right across the hall,” he said.
Opponents of the project are thinking in the short term while the Cape needs to support the service industries over the long term, Frazier said.
“I think most of it comes down to if you plan to live and raise a family on the Cape,” he said.
Field work provided through Cape Tech is priceless experience, he said. Currently, it’s next to impossible to find skilled help on the Cape in the auto technician field, Frazier said.
“There’s a shortage of technicians,” he said about a problem he said is nationwide.
The trade gives technicians skills in a wide variety of fields and, although it’s not for everyone, it can be lucrative, he said.
Out of school, a technician can earn between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, and his more experienced technicians are making between $60,000 and $70,000, he said.
And some people go to a tech school and learn a trade that helps them afford college, Frazier said.
Cape Tech officials have made the rounds to pitch their plan both within the 12-town district, including speaking recently at a meeting of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod. Peter Kimball, the organization’s incoming board president and co-owner of AP Kimball Construction, said the audience was generally receptive to the plans.
The organization doesn’t normally take official stands on political matters, although Kimball said this would have been a prime exception to the rule, but he personally is in favor of the project.
“The industry is woefully understaffed in general, so it would be shortsighted not to be supportive of getting vo-tech education to kids who live here and want to make a good living,” Kimball said. “I think it’s totally worth it. I think it would be shortsighted not to make the investment, and it’s great that the state has chipped in a good chunk of it that would otherwise fall to the (local) taxpayer base.”
In a funding deal with the Massachusetts State Building Authority, Cape Tech has agreed to enroll 650 students — up from the current enrollment of around 620 — in exchange for help with more than 50 percent of the construction bill.
Kimball said a number of his firm’s subcontractors employ Cape Tech graduates to great success.
“I think overall the employment perspective for those industries and the kids coming out of there should be really good,” he said.
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com