Shasta Builders Exchange Trade School in Redding
If You Build It
By Kerri Regan
Photo by Melinda Hunter
Where are you going to college? What’s your major? What do you want to be when you grow up?
Weighty questions for any teenager, to be sure – and even more daunting for those who simply can’t picture themselves at a university. Or in the military. Or at an entry-level job that may never afford them a life above the poverty line.
But the road to a successful career doesn’t always travel through a university, says Shasta Builders Exchange Executive Director Joe Chimenti – the building trades can offer financial stability, freedom and flexibility. The private, non-profit Trade School in Redding provides training and education in the construction industry, and students can work in their field of choice while attending classes.
“Our overall vision is to create rewarding career opportunities in the building trades,” Chimenti says. “Over the last 20 years, so much emphasis has been put on college, and it has disenfranchised young people who may be very bright and very talented, but not necessarily college bound. We want them to get them in a position where they can feel rewarded by what they can build with their hands.”
Opportunity abounds in the trades, Chimenti says. “There are more than 3 million jobs that companies can’t fill because they don’t have skilled tradesmen,” he says. “You’re always going to want the lights to go on in your house, and for fresh water to come in and sewers to go out. You want a roof over your head. We want to build up the prestige and the pride of making things – to work with their hands and truly make a positive difference. The need for skilled tradesmen has never been greater.”
Part of the Shasta Builders Exchange, The Trade School offers National Center for Construction Education and Research industry standard training in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. Instructors are all active in the field or are semi-retired. For example, those teaching the electrical program are journeymen or master electricians, and a master plumber teaches the plumbing courses. “We take a lot of pride because we promote the trades from the trades,” Chimenti says.
And the cost of the program is often less than just one year at most universities. “The goal is to get them rewarding careers, and in no case do we want money to be an obstacle for that,” Chimenti says. “We try to run lean and mean.”
The electrical program is still the school’s most popular, with students taking 160 hours of coursework per year for four years. Classes are at night, so students can work in their field during the day, better preparing them for the workforce and for the required state certification test. Between 75 and 85 students take classes each semester, though they’d like to double that in the next year or so.
And this classroom differs from any classroom you’ve seen before. Terminals, transformers and bins of electrical equipment line the walls. Labs feature lessons on topics like programmable logic control boards. Their textbooks include the National Electric Code, and many students wear dusty jeans and boots that tell the story of the 10 hours that preceded their arrival to the classroom. As electrician Steve Baczkowski (a graduate of The Trade School himself) delivers a lesson about the mechanics of heating and air conditioning units, students occasionally chime in, sharing tidbits about what they’ve learned in the field.
Peter McDermeit of Shingletown is in the middle of his fourth year at the school, and is on the verge of taking his certification test. He has also had to complete 4,800 hours of hands-on training. Trade school is ideal for “someone who enjoys learning, helping people out and working with their hands,” McDermeit says. “It’s like solving a puzzle, whether you’re installing something brand new or troubleshooting something that’s not working anymore. It’s making you understand from start to finish, how utilities go from PG&E to every single outlet and switch in your house.
“We’re learning about things you take for granted at home,” McDermeit says. “You just plug stuff in, and you don’t know how it works. Now I can go fix problems for someone else. I can keep them safe, keep the water flowing and the lights on.”