Business & Real Estate

'I did it by myself': Despite the heat, interns enjoy learning the construction trade

Under the hot summer sun, construction workers are building a new housing development in Elk Grove. And for the past month, among the workers were four young construction interns, ages 17 to 21.

The four interns, Robert Langmanon, Eli Jahlanda, Jared Delacruz and Chang Yang, are participating in a four-week internship program coordinated by the North State Building Industry Foundation. This summer, a total of 62 interns made up of Elk Grove and Placer County high school students, as well as recent high school graduates, will be working through the Foundation's program.

Thirty-four interns worked in June, and 28 will be working in July. During the four weeks, they get first-hand experience in key construction tasks — plumbing, framing, painting and heating/air conditioning. They're all paid $11 an hour, and last year, over 90 percent of the program's interns were hired by the homebuilding industry.

The heating and air conditioning work was the intern favorite of the summer — it's largely an indoors task, away from the sun.

The heat is the one downside to the job, but other than that, all the interns said they enjoy the work they're doing.

"You're outside, instead of stuck in a classroom," said Jahlanda, a rising senior at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

The program presents an opportunity for interns to get real experience in the construction industry and build skills they can use for potential jobs in construction after high school.

"It's nice to explore different stuff I can do after high school," Jahlanda said.

After the Great Recession began about a decade ago, there was more than a 20 percent decrease in construction industry employment numbers nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while those figures have been slowly creeping up since 2012, they have yet to reach pre-recession levels. Meanwhile, the need for housing in Northern California has been increasing.

According to the North State Building Industry Foundation, "Homebuilders identify the labor shortage as the largest single impediment to building the homes Sacramento and California need."

Which is why four major California-area homebuilders — Anthem United, Lennar, Taylor Morrison and USA Properties — are participating in the foundation's job-training program. Also participating are 17 trade contractors, including painting, plumbing, plastering, framing and electric companies.

In recent years, the state has been increasing funding for Career Technical Education at the high school and community college level. And through programs like this one, the homebuilding industry is encouraging young people to go into trade jobs like construction.

"We need a labor force," said Mike Jacobs, a general superintendent for Taylor Morrison. "And we don't have a lot of people coming into the field."

Jacobs himself has a similar kind of mentorship to thank for his career in construction. He started off by digging trenches as an employee for his neighbor's plumbing company.

But now, he feels like many kids opt for college and technology-oriented careers, instead of trade jobs.

"Society is leaning towards tech," Jacobs said. "Parents want their kids to go to college instead of coming out here to learn the trades."

But Jacobs, who has worked in the industry for 20 years, says that a job in construction can be immensely rewarding.

"It feels good, when you complete a house," he said.

The hope is that this internship program can start to draw more young people towards construction. Out of the four interns on the Taylor Morrison site, all of them are looking to go into construction jobs in the future.

And even though the program is just four weeks, the interns are already able to utilize the skills they learned on the job in their day-to-day life — Langmanon fixed a broken light fixture in his house.

"It felt pretty nice," he said. "I did it by myself."

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