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Curtis Lumber Fosters the Trades as a Career Option With Students

With only 16% of high school students choosing to pursue a skilled trade as a career, the lack of qualified workers to fill open job positions—including plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers and welders—has put a strain on the industry. In an attempt to bring awareness to the lack of skilled trade workers, leaders from Curtis Lumber, a 23-store lumber and hardware retailer across New York and Northern Vermont, have made a concerted effort to introduce the trades as a successful career option to students in all grades.

Bridging the Gap

Curtis Lumber’s Doug Ford, vice president of sales and purchasing, and Pam Stott, executive assistant, say leadership began noticing a disparity in the number of students entering the trades a few years ago.

“There was—and still is—a negative connotation for those who choose the trades as their career,” Stott says. “Some see the trades as a career path for those who aren’t good enough for college.”

Ford and Stott wanted to show students that the skilled trades can be a viable and successful career option and connected with local school superintendents, principals and counselors as an avenue to reach students. 

“We learned school counselors and staff typically have difficulty talking to students about career opportunities in the trades because they aren’t well informed themselves,” Stott says. “Some see the trades as a career path only for those who are less academically inclined.”

8th grade students tour the Curtis Lumber warehouse and speak with employees about their careers in the trades.

Ford and Stott worked with local schools to host several programs for students from 2nd grade through high school that promoted the trades as a career option.

What began with a handful of people has grown into the Workforce Development Coalition with almost 40 businesses from various sectors working together. Curtis Lumber created the Coalition to encourage young people and adults to consider a career in the construction industry by bringing an awareness to the benefits associated with it. 

“We are trying to break the misconception surrounding the trades as a less-desirable career option,” Ford says. “By offering in-school and after-school programs that involve parents, we are able to show everyone what career options are available in the trades.”

Innovative Experiences

Not only are there a low number of students entering the skilled trades, there are very few women pursuing these careers. 

“Women only make up 4% of the industry, so we put an emphasis on getting female students involved,” Stott says. 

The Coalition organized a female student shed build during the Showcase of Homes in Saratoga, New York, in October 2022. Putting this event front and center allowed the community, friends and family members to see what young female students can accomplish.

Female students built a shed and shared it with the community during the annual Showcase of Homes in Saratoga, New York.

Additionally, the Coalition engages older students by bringing them into the workplace to experience jobs firsthand with tours of local businesses, construction site visits, job shadowing and internship opportunities. The Coalition also created a program where elementary students as young as 2nd grade can build wooden toolboxes, introducing them to the trades at an early age. All of these experiences provide opportunities for students to ask questions and get a feel for the day-to-day tasks of various trades jobs in the real world. 

“Seeing different trade jobs in motion and getting to ask questions from an actual individual who has made a career in the trades has been valuable for students and parents,” Ford says. “We have seen an increase in interest in our internship program because of our initiatives and have expanded the number of students who are accepted.”

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