In January 2022, in response to the looming workforce cliff facing the commercial construction industry’s skilled trades, the West Michigan Construction Institute (WMCI) opened its doors as a comprehensive commercial construction education center. WMCI is a story about many people and partners working together on a shared goal – to expand the opportunity for individuals to pursue a construction education and career. Thanks to exceptional partners like Grand Rapids Community College (WMCI hosts a component of GRCC’s electrical apprenticeship program), the Literacy Center of West Michigan (who supports construction English as a Second Language training at WMCI), and the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter (who provides direct connection to contractors and industry experts), WMCI has a good foundation on which to positively impact the future of West Michigan’s construction industry.
In its pilot semester, WMCI welcomed its first cohort of high school seniors from three partnering school districts to a work-based learning program, launched a concrete and commercial carpentry craft training program, and hosted a myriad of professional development and certification courses for construction industry professionals. And this summer, WMCI launched its middle school construction summer camps for 6-8th grade students. “One of my favorite stories from our first summer camp session in June is from a social media post made by the mom of one of our campers. After the camp concluded she posted a thank you to WMCI and Allied Mechanical Services for hosting the camp and the welding activity specifically. She stated that her son had such a meaningful experience learning how to weld that he decided to take the money he was saving for a dirt bike and buy a welder instead,” said Jen Schottke, WMCI president. “It’s moments like this that we’re striving for – to create a space and an experience that allows a young person to imagine working in construction, especially when they may never have considered it before.” Summer camps have been so well received that WMCI has a waitlist for its July session.
Now, WMCI is preparing for its first full academic year. In 2022-2023 WMCI looks to expand its craft training programs to include additional levels of the concrete and carpentry programs, as well as expanding into the masonry, drywall, exterior envelope, and plumbing trades. The West Michigan Construction Institute utilizes the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum in both its high school work-based learning programs, as well as the adult post-secondary craft training programs. WMCI selected NCCER as the credentialing organization as its certifications are nationally portable, meaning a student attending a WMCI craft training program can transfer to another NCCER training provider and pick up right where they left off, just like transferring college or university credit.
WMCI is intended to be a hub for construction education in West Michigan. For high school students, it’s a place to start their construction education and acquire relevant and in-demand industry certifications, while also receiving high school credit for their time spent at WMCI. For adult students who are looking for a place to start their education in the construction trades, WMCI starts at Core Plus. Core is the prerequisite course for every single trade program offered, and readies students with industry basics like their OSHA-10 certificate, hand and power tool use, construction math, and basic blueprint reading all while providing an overview of the multitude of trades and careers available in construction. For trade contractors, WMCI is a training provider, either instructing and certifying employees in their specific trade or providing a variety of certification, leadership, and other professional development courses. WMCI is here to support the West Michigan commercial construction industry.
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the energy, excitement, and support WMCI has received since opening,” said Jen Schottke. “Advocating for the value of the construction trades career pathway is work that my team and I are honored to lead at WMCI. When I speak with young people about considering a career in the trades, I tell them, ‘When you learn a skill, you can have a life. And no one can ever take that skill away from you.’ To learn a trade is noble. Tradespeople contribute so significantly to the communities in which we live and I’m delighted that WMCI can be a small part of their story.”
Learn more about the WMCI and view the Fall 2022 course catalog here.