A Builder’s ‘Big Break’

‘Construction Bootcamp’ Bridges Skilled Labor Gap

News Center – August 2020


When it comes to paving the way for crisis-proof careers, Sierra College’s new construction bootcamps are essentially unstoppable.

Beginning in Fall 2019, the College has been connecting students to a suite of three non-credit courses, allowing them to earn their OSHA 10 certifications while networking closely with potential employers… all in just seven to nine weeks.

“The attractiveness of a program like this is that it allows students to explore without losing anything but time — time that will most likely lead toward a passion in their life,” says bootcamp instructor Louie Garcia, Faculty Chair for Construction and Energy Technology at Sierra College. “All you have to do is show up and learn.”

Developed in partnership with the North State Building Industry Association (BIA), the bootcamp affords participants the standard industry requirements and 21st-century skills that businesses need.

“There is a shortage of skilled labor currently,” says Amanda Reynaud, Executive Director of the North State Building Industry Association Foundation, an organization representing over 550 members and 50 thousand industry jobs. She explains that while more than 7,000 positions will need to be filled in the region by 2022, “no one’s pushing out people to meet those numbers.” Such a labor shortage would affect home affordability, especially at a time when companies can’t build fast enough.

That’s why the dynamic partnership between Sierra College and the BIA is committed to catapulting cadets into in-demand jobs. From basic carpentry to safety 101, students pick up the precise skills that businesses are seeking. According to the director, “Employers would essentially sign on and say, ‘Yes, if people take this course, I would be interested in potentially hiring them.’”

With Strong Workforce funds financing safety equipment, tools and project materials, the program boasts many graduates who have been hired directly into industry.

“I’ve been working with the class firsthand, and it was great seeing all the students graduate and later hear that they all got jobs,” says DeeDee Wang, Administrative Assistant for the BIA. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The secret to the program’s success is simple. Through the robust partnership, Sierra College invites employers from the different trades to connect with the next generation of professionals, fostering an opportunity to network and provide field trips to various worksites. The bootcamp concludes with a resume writing workshop and mock interviews conducted by some of the largest companies in the area, including Villara Building Systems, Erickson Framing, and ALCAL Specialty Contracting.

“It’s a big break for the students,” says Reynaud. “The fact that they complete this class is a great vetting system to know that these are serious people … coming out with enough skills to get them into the workforce.”

From the College’s perspective, the innovative approach has been a big hit. “We managed to light the fire under someone, and now they have a purpose,” says Garcia about his grads. The program has been so successful that the school added a cohort at the Nevada County Campus (NCC) for the Spring 2020 semester.

“We were really excited when they decided to offer it at the Nevada County Campus,” shares Nevada County Contractors Executive Director Libby Goldsmith, an alum and self-proclaimed “diehard Sierra College fan.” The association helps connect NCC students to jobs and arranges field trips to local businesses, including Grass Valley Electric and The Cabinet Company. “It’s been a huge benefit to our local employers.”

According to NCC instructor Eli Ferrier, having the program in Nevada County is critical. With a long-standing background as a licensed contractor, he knows the challenges better than most.

“I got into the training aspect of it after recognizing that it was becoming harder and harder to find skilled employees up here in Nevada County — we’re pretty rural,” he says.

The bootcamp is “raising the game” for the local construction industry, according to the instructor, also a Sierra College alum. Ferrier took classes in the College’s business program to enrich his licensed contractor business, and he feels great pride in now teaching for his alma mater.

“The College has had a profound impact on my ability to make a living and provide for myself,” beams the grateful instructor, who is thrilled to be paying it forward to his students.

Though Spring classes ended early due to COVID closures, Sierra College and its industry partners worked hard to ensure that participants could still connect to employers and job possibilities. Usually, the semester ends with a “Meet and Greet” with regional employers. Though the much-anticipated event was canceled, Goldsmith says, “I wouldn’t keep them from having that same opportunity just because of everything that happened.”

In fact, construction remains an essential sector in the region, especially in Nevada County, where the bootcamp’s workforce-ready grads are needed more than ever.

“They are still scheduling work,” Goldsmith says about the industry. “Everyone is as busy as can be.”

The persistent demand is something she can confirm firsthand, as a workforce matchmaker with connections in both industry and higher education. Professors know they can send students’ resumes straight to Goldsmith, and the association will do everything it can to open doors.

“We’ve got 340 members who would all be happy to have a few extra employees,” says the director.

The same holds true for learners down the hill at Rocklin. Take bootcamp grad Paul Brocker, who, despite the COVID chaos, was able to find the perfect position with the help of a BIA job developer.

“Once I showed interest, he was really good about notifying me of any potential opportunities,” says Brocker, who interviewed with a few companies before accepting an offer from DeSchryver Concrete Construction.

Originally, Brocker joined the bootcamp to help with his family’s industrial property management business. “I grew up around construction, but I didn’t do as much as I could have,” reflects the Sierra student.

He was impressed with the way the bootcamp classes “fit together,” affording him the basic toolkit he needed to build a new career. From safety essentials to power tools, he particularly enjoyed working with his hands on practical projects. “I just gained more experience in construction in general.”

Indeed, the bootcamp basics gave the Sierra College alum the foundation to pour foundations (and much more!). In his current position at DeSchryver, Brocker helps make concrete footings and forms for future homes.

“It’s good, hard work, while I learn a little bit,” he says, content with a rewarding career building new homes for families with his hands-on skills.

Looking toward the future, Brocker hopes to become a form manager. And, he hopes to broaden his skills with Sierra College’s finish carpentry class.

“Sierra is a really good school,” says Brocker, who now wishes he had gone to community college before earning his four-year degree. “We had some great teachers and great classes.”

Despite the pandemic, the College will continue to support the Construction Bootcamp in October, offering a single cohort in Rocklin with social distancing policies in place. In the future, the plan is to reinstate the cohort at NCC, with the possibility to expand to the Tahoe-Truckee Campus as well.

For Brocker, the program is something of a no-brainer to anyone considering construction.

“The classes are actually free, so you can’t really lose,” says Brocker. “I’m enjoying the work and learning some things, and thankful for the chance to get the job.”