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MSU-B program addresses emerging, future construction work force needs
Cleo Sutton, a longtime industrial-technology educator, has been selected as Montana BILT project manager.

The baby boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — comprises an estimated 82.8 million individuals, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

What is being done today to fill the holes left behind when the boomers start to retire in a few years? Montana State University-Billings programs, such as the Montana Building Industry Labor Training project, or BILT, help address those needs.

A few months ago, 18 potential students showed up at an open house in the Heights to hear about opportunities in construction trades.

Jim Harr, president and owner of High Tech Construction, talked to the students about job opportunities.

For John Cech, dean of the College of Technology, it was one of those golden moments where planned academic programs connect with the real world.

"What Jim Harr told them was 'We need people,' " Cech said.

A lack of qualified workers has kept more significant growth in the construction business in check, Cech said, and the situation only was going to get more complicated in the future.

Thriving home and business construction statewide has cornered much of the available skilled trades work force in Montana. The construction trades will take an even bigger hit in the next few years as baby-boom workers reach retirement age.

To help meet the demands, MSU-B and the College of Technology are leading a statewide work force training initiative that is being supported by nearly $2 million in federal funds received by the College of Technology. By creating the Montana BILT project, leaders statewide are implementing the $1.98 million Department of Labor Community-Based Job Training Grant, which is being administered by the MSU-B COT, to increase workforce training opportunities in several construction technologies.

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The Montana BILT grant award will promote education and training opportunities to support a skilled work force in Montana.

The four-campus grant partners are: MSU-B College of Technology; the University of Montana College of Technology in Missoula; the UM-Tech College of Technology in Butte; and Montana State University-Northern in Havre. The program recently expanded to include Miles Community College, Flathead Community College, the UM College of Technology in Helena and the MSU Great Falls College of Technology.

Cleo Sutton, a longtime industrial-technology educator who has experience at the high -chool and university level, has been selected as Montana BILT project manager and will oversee the development of coordinated curriculum efforts in the state.

The program was unveiled this spring and officially begins at the COT this fall with the offering of a two-year, 72-credit construction-trades degree. A common curriculum based on national standards will be used so that courses will easily transfer between all sites in the state.

The curriculum was developed by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Cech said he hopes to work with apprenticeship programs so that two-year degrees will be applied to apprenticeship requirements.

The common curriculum and University System focus will help in statewide recruitment of students for the construction industry as well as provide hands-on experience with community building activities, such as Habitat for Humanity. Campuses such as the MSU-B COT will be able to do outreach work shops for parents as well as elementary and secondary students and counselors.

Eventually, those associated with Montana BILT say they want to develop additional construction programs in different areas of the state, based on local needs. A concrete and masonry program could be developed in Billings, while a historic-preservation program could be developed in Butte.

The COT's new carpentry program provides graduates with the skills required of a carpenter in a variety of construction settings. Potential students interested in building codes, estimating, concrete, framing, interior and exterior finish, decks, and blueprint reading would be a good fit for the program. Upon completion, construction-carpentry students earn an associate of applied science degree.

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