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‘We’re in a crisis’: New Las Vegas high school hopes to combat skilled labor shortage

One of the newest high schools in Clark County is looking to help ease the shortage of skilled workers in the valley by giving students the chance to learn the trades before graduation.

The Southern Nevada Trades High School opened just in time for the new school year and focuses on teaching students lessons related to the skills-based trades in the construction industry. The hope is the charter school can provide a solid pipeline of young students to industries with good paying jobs and a massive shortage of workers.

“The mission of the school is to graduate students who are both college and career ready, and especially for careers in the construction trades,” said Julie Carver, executive director of the new school. “So it’s really focused right now on construction, carpentry and home building.”

The school teaches the same math, science, history and English classes that students need to graduate in Nevada but its focus on construction and trades shows up in the elective classes, she said. This school also has a dual enrollment program with the College of Southern Nevada if students want to take more advanced courses.

Carver said the Southern Nevada Trades High School based its operations on ACE High School in Reno, which opened in 2002 and provides classes in architecture, diesel technology, construction and manufacturing.

Longtime coming

It’s been a four-year process for a trades focused high school to open in Las Vegas, Nat Hodgson, the CEO of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, said. The association is a school partner and helped raise funds and provide expertise ahead of its opening.

The homebuilders association resorted to focusing on helping open a school after trying different methods to get students interested in construction, he said.

“This is my last path to go down to try to do something for the future workers of residential construction,” Hodgson said. “We tried going to middle schools, we tried doing some job fairs with high schools and just really not getting anybody excited about it, construction they don’t look at it as sexy.”

A survey from 2022 conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 93 percent of construction firms are looking to hire and 91 percent report difficulty hiring workers. In Southern Nevada, Hodgson estimates the shortage of skilled workers could be in the “tens of thousands” and has been caused by schools and society overall not prioritizing teaching this type of work to students.

“Back in the old days, when I went to school, there was a woodshop, there’s auto mechanics, welding and woodworking,” Hodgson said. “There’s hardly any of that anymore.”

The lack of workers can also make new construction more expensive since firms are having to raise wages to keep workers on the job, he said. The AGCA survey also found that 86 percent of firms have raised worker pay and 70 percent of firms have raised material costs which gets passed on in a project’s final cost.

Creating a practical connection

The connection between lessons learned at the school and how they can apply to getting a job is being emphasized for parents and students, Carver said.

“Students are really coming to us, but what we’re finding is they’re oftentimes students who are not engaged in traditional education,” she said. “They’re like sitting through class and saying, ‘Well, why am I learning this?’ ”

Currently, the trades high school only offers ninth and 10th grades, with about 80 students currently enrolled. Open enrollment remains open until Sept. 5, with the hopes of raising the number of enrollees to 120 students, Carver said. The school will be building out its capacity by adding a grade a year, with the hope of topping enrollment out at 400 students, she said.

“We’re never going to be a large high school, our model is small so that we can give individualized attention to the students who really need it,” Carver said.

The school is just over 25,000 square feet and operates out of the former Korean Gospel Church in the Sunrise Manor neighborhood in the eastern Las Vegas Valley. The school is still under construction and workshop space where actual building will take place such as of tiny homes is expected to be complete by fall 2024, Carver said.

Getting into high wage jobs

The trades high school has some major supporters in the industry, including Las Vegas-based HVAC and plumbing company Goettl, which operates in four states.

“We’re in a crisis,” Goettl CEO Ken Goodrich said. “We don’t have enough technicians, we don’t have enough installers, we know every trade is suffering, just because of supply and demand. These guys are coming out and getting starting wages as well, if not better than college graduates.”

Goodrich said Goettl and other companies that need skilled labor have started their own recruitment departments and training academies to build out their workforce. He estimates that Goettl has 12 recruiters on staff and spent about $2.5 million last year to run its own training academy to get new hires trained enough in safety and equipment to go out in the field.

“It’s $2.5 million of our profits that we’re reinvesting back into the company, because if we don’t, we won’t have a company, we won’t have people to run it,” he said.

Both Hodgson and Goodrich said the high wages of skilled labor positions can lure people into the industry. Hodgson estimates the starting hourly wage in residential construction is $15 to $20 and rises quickly. Goodrich said Goettl apprentices start at $25 an hour but can make six-figures after a year on the job.

Carver has said the school has received a lot of support from industry partners who hope students graduate and immediately enter into an industry job but the ultimate goal for the school is to provide students with options.

“It’s just to have as many opportunities as possible for these kids and to have a positive effect on their families like financially to lift them up,” she said.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on X.

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