Waupaca High School Comet Program Builds Pathway to Construction Careers
For seven years now, Waupaca High School has been building a pathway for students wishing to pursue a career in the construction industry with a hands-on technical education class as part of a program called the Waupaca Comet Project, which gives students the experience needed to frame a home, with the help of Blenker Companies.
In order to better give students the life skills they need to be successful in the construction field, Waupaca High School started a partnership over three years ago with Blenker Companies, a family-owned and operated building solutions provider and design/build contractor, located in Amherst, Wisconsin that has been servicing the Midwest for over 40 years.
This partnership with Blenker Companies means that Waupaca High School students get to work one-on-one with experienced carpenters on school grounds, allowing the students to experience every phase of the framing process, which involves state-of-the-art wood-framed components.
“Blenker has been a fantastic partner in the whole process,” Jacob Cogger, technical educational instructor at Waupaca High School said. “Blenker uses a prefab wall system, which is considerably faster, easier and generates less waste than traditional stick built homes.”
Keith Skierka, a master carpenter for Blenker Companies, stepped on-site this year to offer his guidance to make it easier, faster and better for students to learn the ropes.
Skierka said he showed them the framing phases including what happens to a load when it gets to a jobsite, how the crane assists in lifting and installing the building components, how to get the trusses set up, how to get the walls straightened and more.
Skierka, who has worked on homes ever since he was a student at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH), knows firsthand what it’s like to be in the shoes of the Waupaca High School students.
During three of his four years of high school, he was involved with framing a Habitat for Humanity home. After graduating, he pursued further education at Northcentral Technical College and then went on to study at Mid-State Technical College. From there, he started his apprenticeship with Blenker Companies and now he has come full-circle, working at Blenker Companies since 2005 and now guiding the apprentices.
As a result of Blenker Companies’ contribution to the Waupaca Comet Project, students get the real-life practical application and experience that a textbook can’t offer.
“This [class] is a true representation of what the residential construction industry is like,” Cogger said. “In the past, I have built sheds and other small structures. With this house, students can see the process from foundation to finish. My students should be able to walk onto any construction site or apprentice program with a solid set of technical skills.”
Since they can experience it, feel it and see the whole process, the students are then able to develop important life skills as as a result.
“My goal is that my students emerge from the program, ready for the world of world of work,” Cogger said. “They know how to show up on time, work with a team, self-management, creativity, attention to detail, [how to] communicate well and also have a solid work ethic.”
Not only have students developed these important life skills, but some of them are already on the fast-track to getting a head start in the construction industry with an apprenticeship.
Cogger said he has students in his class who are pursuing electrical apprenticeships, two students who are planning on pursuing degrees in construction management, one student who has plans to work with Blenker Companies when he graduates in two years and the rest of his students are seeing themselves working within the field of construction.
High school senior and Blenker Companies apprentice Trey Noltner is one of the students enrolled in the program and said his experience is already proving to be beneficial for him, as he pursues his career in construction.
“Thanks to Jason Blenker for providing the opportunity and we all really learn a lot,” Noltner said. “I get to see the whole thing, learn all the components of building a house and then get to go on-site and actually get to see how it comes together,” Noltner said.
This year, 16 students are enrolled in the class and they are totaling three hours of work per day on the house project in the school parking lot.
Students started on the project Sept. 27 in the Waupaca High School parking lot and the hope is that it will take a year for the students to complete.
Once the house is complete, the house will be moved onto a foundation, where a garage and a porch will be constructed.
Then, the home will go up for sale and the profits will be used to help fund the next project, which includes the tools, curriculum and resources for future educational opportunities.