Schools consider academy for construction jobs

The district wants to help train students and help meet soaring demand for such workers.

Published March 13, 2007

INVERNESS - Lecanto High School has an academy for aspiring artists. Crystal River High School has an academy for those who want to go into health care. Citrus High School's academy is for students looking at careers in business.

Now one of the county's three high schools, or a separate site, could end up grooming the next batch of electricians and construction workers.

The idea to create an academy for students interested in filling construction and energy jobs is expected to come up at a School Board meeting today.

District staffers will ask the board to support a partnership with a regional work force development group and pursue funding to study the proposal.

With a nuclear plant in Levy County possibly on the horizon, the region's demand for skilled labor in the construction and energy fields is expected to soar. One estimate puts the total number of workers who will be needed to build the plant at 1,600.

Levy, with a population of 38,860 and a labor force of 16,248, won't be able to meet the needs alone, according to CLM Workforce Connection, the region's work force development group.

Contractors will look to Marion and Citrus counties to help plug the shortage.

According to the group's estimates, future demand for workers in construction will create 222 additional jobs in Citrus and 1,195 additional jobs in Marion. Hourly wages will range from $12.02 to $14.03.

Those estimates don't represent the workers needed to build the nuclear plant. They also don't take into account workers needed to replace those who are leaving the field.

If plans to build the nuclear plant move forward, construction could begin in 2010.

Citrus school superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel and the other counties' superintendents have all met to discuss the shortage of construction workers in the future if their districts don't prepare enough students now.

Creating an academy that equips high school students with those skills was the proposed solution. Students could graduate with a certificate showing the skills they mastered that would be recognized by contractors and that would put them to work immediately.

They also would be prepared to go into accelerated programs at a community college or vocational school.

A high school in Marion already has such an academy. Officials there would look to expand the course offerings.

It was not clear Monday how the Withlacoochee Technical Institute in Citrus fits into the district's plans. Officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The Jan. 29 meeting of superintendents was hosted by CLM Workforce Connection and was attended by representatives from Progress Energy, Ocala Electric Utility, Gainesville Regional Utility and Sumter Electric Cooperative.

According to a tentative timeline, the high schools in the three counties that will host academies will be chosen in May and the academies would be open to students in August 2008.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.