Durham Tech, Durham Public Schools skilled trades program officially launches


instructor shows student how to use a drill
FILE PHOTO: Durham Tech instructor, Ben Lock, shows student how to use a drill during Construction Camp in Summer 2018.

Durham Technical Community College has joined forces with Durham Public Schools and local companies to fill a workforce need in the community.

The partnership is for the new WayMakers: Durham’s Skilled Trades Pathway. The pathway is designed to meet the increasing demand for skilled trade workers.

In January, representatives from area companies assembled at Durham Tech to learn more about the program.

“We are excited to be partnering with Durham Public Schools to bring skilled trades back into the high schools and create clear pathways for those students into further training and employment opportunities,” said Maryah Smith-Overman, Skilled Trades Program Director and Instructor at Durham Tech. “We look forward to working closely with our local business partners throughout the development process to help create strong programs overall.”

Students in the WayMakers pathway can start at the Southern School of Energy & Sustainability and, upon graduating, can choose to enter into an apprenticeship, search for a job, or continue their education at Durham Tech or another two-year or four-year college.

Students can also take courses at Durham Tech while attending Southern School.

“Talent development is key to Durham Tech’s mission,” said Dr. Bill Ingram, Durham Tech President. “At the same time, we understand that in order for economic prosperity to move forward that economic opportunity needs to be available to everyone in our community. The WayMakers program is an excellent example of how that works because we are able to develop talent to make the construction industry keep on thriving and prospering. We are doing that by finding folks in our community who need a step up. Working in partnership with Durham Public Schools and our local businesses is vitally important.”

In the fall, the A.J. Fletcher Foundation awarded $150,000 to Durham Tech and $300,000 to Durham Public Schools. The foundation is now considered a founding sponsor of the WayMakers program.

Durham Tech is applying its funding to expand the Core Construction Fundamentals course and shared programming with Durham Public Schools; to create a new plumbing lab and program; and to offer new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or HVAC, apprenticeship opportunities.

After students finish the fundamentals course, they can choose to do an apprenticeship with a local business, take courses in subjects such as carpentry, welding, architectural technology, and industrial systems technology, or seek employment. Durham Tech is planning to begin offering its new Electrical Line Technician program this fall.

The goal is to train 170 future workers per term, according to the presentation shown at the January meeting.

Durham Public Schools’ part of the pathway will feature classes in plumbing, HVAC, electrical, highway construction, and entrepreneurship. Seniors will also have work-based learning opportunities.

It is estimated that 60 students will graduate yearly from this portion of the pathway, in addition to the Southern School’s other graduates.

“I think … that parents and the community have been asking for the trades to come back into the school for a long time,” said Jerome Leathers, Principal of Southern School. “The kids can be exposed to the world outside of Southern, and that’s most important to us. … They can have exposure and shape their dreams. … This is a great opportunity (for them).”

Denise Barnes, Regional Diversity Manager for the Southeast for LeChase Construction, said her decades-plus experience in the construction industry has caused her to witness firsthand the need for qualified workers.

three people talking at meeting at table
Denise Barnes speaks to other industry partners at the Inaugural Waymaker's Collaborative Meeting in January 2019.

Barnes is on the Executive Team for the WayMakers program.

“The reason I got involved is that I’m looking to be part of the solution,” she said. “We are currently in a crisis state with the lack of … skilled trade workers.”

Other members of the Executive Team include: Patrice Gilmore of Holt Brothers Construction, Meaghan Lewis of Duke Energy, Justin Ramsey of CT Wilson Construction, and Robin Thomas of Duke University Health System.

“We are all wanting to come together into one seamless system between the school system, Durham Tech, employers, and our workforce partners," said Ondrea Austin, Lead Workforce Coordinator for Durham Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education program. "We want to help provide better support and guidance for students and job seekers and to help them understand how to get into these great jobs.”