CTE alumni teach the next generation construction trades

May 16, 2023

Jackson Quick, left, works with intern Brian Bigford at a renovation project in Branch Township.

CTE alumni teach the next generation construction trades

West Shore School News is a presentation of West Shore Educational Service District in partnership with Mason County Press and Oceana County Press.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

AMBER TOWNSHIP (Mason County) — Real life experience can often be one of the most beneficial ways to learn a skill. Construction Trades students enrolled in West Shore Educational Service District’s Career & Technical Education program have the opportunity to take internships (also known as work based learning) with local construction companies to learn from working professionals, in addition to learning from their certified instructors. 

Two such internships with two local companies are unique this year because the businesses are both owned by men who are alumni of the Construction Trades program. Jackson Quick, owner of Jackson Quick Building, Inc. is a 2004 graduate of Mason County Eastern High School. Adam Wagner, owner of Wagner Construction, is a 2016 graduate of Mason County Central High School. 

Jace Rasmussen is an intern with Wagner Construction.

Interning with Quick is Brian Bigford, a Mason County Central junior. Interning with Wagner is Jace Rasmussen, a Ludington High School senior. 

“This program helped me decided what I wanted to do for a career,” Quick said. “When I was in high school, during my junior and senior years, I would spend my afternoons in the CTE’s Construction Trades program. Back then, we built stick-built houses. Construction Trades and wood shop were the two classes that helped me find my place. There is so much focus in high school for kids to go to college, but college just isn’t for everyone. Plus, we need people to work in the trades.” 

Bigford said he works for Quick Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 to 10:15 a.m.  He then goes to school from 10:47 a.m. until the end of the day. Bigford’s parents live in Saugatuck. He said he moved to Branch last year to help take care of his grandparents and also to attend the Construction Trades program. 

Quick said he started working in building trades a week or two after graduating from high school. “I worked for a builder in Ludington. After eight years, I got my license. Then, I started my own company 12 years ago.

“I think it’s very important training the next generation. This is my second year with interns. They are earning money and are an extra set of hands. But, most importantly, I believe having students working with my crew gives us a sense of purpose. I am happy to share what I know.” 

Aaron Tarsa, the lead CTE Construction Trades instructor, said the internship program is invaluable. He said he is also proud to see his former students now being teachers. 

“It’s really rewarding to see these guys run their own businesses and also teaching the next group of students. This internship program gives the students a chance to explore many different areas of construction trades. Not every student may want to be a carpenter. Through the internship, they have an opportunity to work with many speciality trades, such as heating and cooling technicians, plumbers, well drillers, electricians, and many other areas of building.”

Shelby Hughes, CTE work based learning coordinator, said the ESD offers internships through several of its career technical education classes. 

Adam Wagner is an alumnus of the Construction Trades program who now operates his own business.

“We really appreciate the partnerships with local businesses,” Hughes said. “These students are able to get into the work field and gain experiences that they normally would have in the classroom. You hear a lot of people grumbling about kids these days, but I can tell you that the students who take these CTE classes are working hard and they make valuable employees.” 

As part of the ESD millage, CTE is offered to juniors and seniors who attend high school in Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties. The West Shore ESD also offers CTE to Manistee County high school students through tuition, payed by the schools. 

Tarsa said first year CTE students can take an internship beginning in the second trimester. Second year students can take an internship the entire year. “They just have to go through our safety orientation and know the basic skills,” Tarsa said, adding that the students will often learn alternative methods than those skills taught in the classroom. “In the classroom we teach them a certain way to work with the tools. When they go into the field and work with someone else, they may learn how to do the same operation differently. That’s OK and we tell the students that it’s OK.” 

Bigford said one of the things he is enjoying about his current assignment is the uniqueness of the project. Quick’s company specializes in residential remodeling and new building. Currently, the company is working on renovating and expanding a 100-plus year-old cottage along the Big South Branch of the Pere Marquette River in Branch Township. 

“I’m learning a lot here,” Bigford said. “This is custom work. It’s tedious and it’s not the same any given day. You have to figure out things as you are working on them.” 

Wagner echoed Quick’s sentiments about working with interns. 

“There just aren’t enough people working in this field,” Wagner said. “It’s hard to find workers and this offers a great opportunities for us to have workers and also to teach skills.” 

Teacher Aaron Tarsa

Hughes said it’s the choice of the employer if they compensate the students or not. Certain categories of students, such as allied health students, are not allowed to be compensated during their internships, known as clinicals. But, most of the other programs allow for compensation. 

“If they students are just job shadowing, they normally don’t get paid,” Hughes said. “But, if they are performing work duties or have to travel to a work site, the employer normally will compensate them.” 

Tarsa said the Construction Trades program currently has nine internships.

“Most of the internships right now are in Mason County,” he said. “We have one in Manistee County and would really like to set up some interns with companies in Oceana County. Ideally, we want the students to work in the area where they are from.” 

Business owners or managers who are interested in hosting interns may contact Shelby Hughes at shughes@wsesd.org or 231-843-5707. The ESD’S CTE programs include Agriscience, Allied Health Technology, Automotive Technology, Construction Trades, Criminal Justice, Culinary Arts, Digital Media, Educator Academy, Graphic Arts, Health Occupations, IT: Networking, Mechatronics, and Welding.

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