Building Quarries – Flathead Beacon
At Schellinger Construction, Kyle Schellinger has struggled to recruit a full staff to work for his Columbia Falls-based civil and highway construction company, where crews work on large-scale highway projects for agencies like the Department of Transportation. Montana (MDT) and Federal Aviation. Administration (FAA).
“It was really tough,” Schellinger said. “We travel the western half of the state and can only work in the summer. We have to do a lot in a short season with 50-60 hour work weeks and workers have to leave their families all week. »
Schellinger has worked with the Montana Contractor’s Association (MCA) for a few years where board members developed BUILD Montana, a pilot program designed for high school students that introduces them to careers in construction.
Last year, MCA launched BUILD Montana in conjunction with the Billings School District, Knife River Corporation and RDO Equipment Co. to form a course for high school juniors and seniors.
After a successful pilot program in which six Billings students participated, Schellinger helped launch a BUILD Montana course in Kalispell, in conjunction with Flathead High School and RDO Equipment Co.
Rob Hunter, the head of Flathead High School’s careers and technology department, said BUILD Montana officials approached him with the idea last year, and although the course was not accredited this year he has been helping his students explore different career opportunities and has about seven students registered for next spring.
“It’s important for the construction industry because they’re understaffed, but it’s important for us in high school to close that gap between need and finding the students who want to do it,” Hunter said. . “We are constantly on the lookout for career exploration opportunities. There are so many students who don’t go to university.
Students begin the course, which will become accredited next year, by taking online classes through John Deere University and will eventually work on site with construction crews where they will learn site safety and the operation and equipment inspection. As soon as the weather warms up, the students go to the company’s gravel pits to learn how the gravel crushers work.
“The students thought it was pretty good,” Hunter said. “The guys who taught them said they did a great job on their first day.”
At the end of April, students followed teams to the intersection of Dern Road and Springcreek Road for a week to learn how to use equipment including a front-end loader, skid steer loader and mini- shovel.
“They learn what life is like working in construction,” Schellinger said.
After Billings’ pilot program ended last year, MCA executive director David Smith said two students continued to work for Knife River after the course.
“One of them makes $22.50 an hour,” Smith said. “A year ago this student had minimal skills and soon after he started working on building a gravel quarry…The team that works with him at Knife River is so supportive that ‘she won’t let him fail.”
After learning of a survey by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research that 65% of college students would not take a job in the construction industry, even if it paid a salary of $100,000, Smith set out to recruit the remaining 35% of students who would accept.
“That’s where it all started,” Smith said. “In 2020, we got together between the equipment dealer and our organization and started discussing and developing these ideas.”
While the program has so far focused on road construction, Smith says Kalispell’s program will likely expand into vertical construction, reflecting the development and growth of the valley.
“It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been part of,” Smith said. “Seeing a child get excited about their adult life and the potential there is. Some young people don’t want to be in an office and by exposing them to the world of construction you can give them a lot more opportunities.