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Building futures
Summer camp seeks to help close skills gap

A construction worker frames a house in the Castleberry addition in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
A construction worker frames a house in the Castleberry addition in north Oklahoma City. [SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

The construction industry in Oklahoma City, facing a chronic shortage of workers and entrepreneurs in the building trades, will to try to grow its own, starting with a “construction summer camp” for kids in 2022.

It’s been in the works for a couple of weeks. The first meeting of minds, called by Jack Werner, was Wednesday at the Oklahoma Home Builders Association.

Werner is owner of A to Z Inspections and is a National Association of Home Builders-certified educator. He has a Ph.D in finance. But college isn’t for everyone, he said, and builders and general contractors have to do a better job of getting the word out to young people that a construction career can start with vocational-technical education and lead to a good life.

Work in the construction trades — plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry, electrical installation and so on — not only pays well, Werner said, but “you can enjoy what you do.”

The situation is growing dire, said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Home Builders Association. He said the average age of plumbers is 58, HVAC installers is 59, and electricians is 60.

“People are not excited about the trades because they don’t know about the trades,” Means said, or that they can be making $60,000 to $80,000 a year “in no time at all” and “run their own business.”

Camp organizers should consider curriculum created by the nonprofit Home Builders Institute, which started with the National Association of Home Builders, Means said.

The industry got a taste of a camp-type experience by giving students a taste of the skilled trades in October, 2019, during Build My Future OKC, a career exploration day at the OKC Fairgrounds. The event introduced young people to carpentry, masonry, electrical work, heavy equipment operation and other construction trades — and a gingerbread house for fun.

Build My Future OKC attracted about 400 students sent by nearly 20 schools, said Elisa McAlister, executive vice president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association, which organized it through its Professional Women in Building Council.

It had to go virtual in 2020 because of the coronavirus. But a hands-on experience is more meaningful, Means said, recalling hearing something like this from a student: “I’ve never held a hammer in my life.”

He added, “Holding that hammer could change the direction of a life.”

It’s not that there are no efforts at shoring up the trades already under way. Those at the meeting heard brief presentations from representatives of the Guthrie Job Corps Center and the Office of Workforce Development.

A construction summer camp could help, said Will Blake, owner of Vesta Foundation Solutions, 3709 NW 3. Blake urged the enthusiastic people at the meeting not to lose momentum in doing what they can to tackle the problem.

“We can continue to complain about it, or take action,” he said.

Real Estate Editor Richard Mize edits The Oklahoman’s Real Estate section, and covers housing, construction, commercial real estate, and related topics for the newspaper and Contact him at Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription at today.