Davie High at forefront of training workers

Published 10:24 am Friday, November 23, 2018

By Will Marrs

For the Enterprise

Earlier this year Forbes Magazine released an article that echoes the conversation on a growing trend in the American culture.

The national workforce is heavily populated with middle-aged individuals with an ever-growing scarcity of young people entering the skilled trade fields to replace those retiring.  The article also states the current high school graduate seeking a bachelor’s degree is expected to shell out an average of anywhere from $80,000- $100,000 at the university level, with 42 percent of graduates borrowing money to pay for college.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a student who is looking to enter a trades or skilled position after walking across the high school graduation stage, accumulates no student debt and 2-4 years of on-site experience in the same timeline their peer takes to acquire that bachelor’s degree.   

Today’s high school alumni are finding themselves in a different situation where they are seeing the option to make a lucrative earning in a blue-collar field.  Large corporations and companies are seeing the effects of this widening labor gap and are changing marketing methods to target the high school student with this skillset.

Career and Technical Education is finding itself in more conversation starters rather than after thoughts at the state and national level.

However, Davie County High School is not unfamiliar to the national need of skilled workers, with a strong career and technical tradition that’s becoming a model in how to prepare students for tomorrow.

Matt McKnight, instructor of masonry and core and sustainable construction at DHS, has been deeply involved in the career and technical education trend before the new national spotlight.

Janet Barnes, career counselor at DHS, said: “Davie High graduates approximately 9-12 nationally credentialed masonry students each year who have completed three levels of masonry instruction.  We are very proud of the students we are putting into the skilled workforce.  We need to continue to increase our pipeline of skilled bricklayers because the booming construction industry needs them faster than we can train them.”

McKnight and students recently competed in the “Bricklayer 500” sponsored by Spec Mix, a regional and national level masonry competition that advocates for the trade. The outdoor competition took place on Nov. 8 at Ben Ketchie Park in Gold Hill.  Twelve students ranging from sophomores to seniors enrolled in Level 2 and 3 masonry at DHS were allowed to make the trip, with two students from Davie competing in the student level field.

The regional qualifying event crowns a winning team in a student and professional level, with the professional level champions advancing to a national showdown in Las Vegas.

Masonry industry leaders such as Gates Masonry, Huntley Brothers, McGee Brothers, and Koontz Brothers among many others were in attendance looking to scout their next employees, even at the high school level.

The student competition held a 20-minute time duration with a 5-minute jointing period to properly lay as many bricks to a determined line as possible. Student masons were given the chance to provide their own tender to keep them supplied with mortar and bricks throughout the competition.

Israel Ramirez (mason) and Trent McDaniel (tender) found themselves in the heavily-talented competition. Other NC high schools showcased their talents with a winner from Mt. Pleasant laying 205 bricks for the win.

Professional level masons competed in the same style contest with an hour time limit with the winner laying a few bricks shy of 700 to edge out others.

Most important were the student takeaways from the competition.

Mason Israel Ramirez was chosen as an alternate due to an unexpected absence by another student. He expressed his feelings on the unknown competiveness he encountered.  “I was nervous more than anything, a lot of pressure at the beginning. As the competition went on, I relaxed more and had fun. Winning wasn’t the point. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Davie and I now want to pursue masonry further,” said Ramirez.

His tender, Trent McDaniel was right beside him in the teamwork during the 20 minutes.  McDaniel said: “I quickly prepared a game plan with Israel to do our best with the little preparation time we had with Israel being chosen last minute. I did my best to keep him calm and prepared with the supplies that he needed. I learned that quality work was the goal. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of the competition and more importantly the chance to talk with industry professionals really makes me want to pursue this as a career now.”

The 12 students from DHS held in class competitions to see who would be chosen to represent War Eagle Construction against the other 10 student teams.

McKnight is full of compliments about the young men from Davie and the career exposure they received.

“It’s an exceptional way for students to gain exposure to the industry and to be able to meet individuals who have made a career out of masonry, who started in the exact same spot the students are in now. My goal in teaching masonry is to help students in becoming employed. Opportunities such as these are real world stepping stones outside of the classroom. “I’m extremely, extremely proud of the teamwork completed by Israel and Trent, and even more proud of the professionalism shown by my level 2 and 3 class. The examples set by my students and DHS were noticed and mentioned to me by multiple Industry professionals and company owners.”

Davie High school is not a new face to the career and technical education arena.  Students are given opportunities to compete in these such events, or others sanctioned by organizations such as Future Farmers of America, Future Business Leaders of America, ProStart Culinary, HOSA Future Health Professionals and Skills USA among many others. DHS CTE Courses and teachers are receiving state administration recognition for the real-world and authentic projects being produced within the school system.

Anthony Davis, Davie County School System’s newest director of CTE and federal programs commented: “The Bricklayer 500 is one of the largest culminating events of workforce development in the country.  This was an invaluable opportunity for Davie County High School students to join over 600 other students from 27 high schools across North and South Carolina to learn about masonry in the workforce.”

It is in this American climate that these skilled and trade classes offered in the secondary educational level are prime opportunities for students seeking immediate career placement post-graduation.  With the employment gap widening, the War Eagles continue to dig in and get boots dirty preparing students to be successful tomorrow.