Summit High School empowers students to seek trade careers through new program

Students enrolled in Summit High Schools' Trade program, which launched in Fall 2022, work on building a shed for storing materials at the Summit High School.
Oakley Van Oss/Courtesy photo

While college has become a widely accepted path for many students’ futures, college is not the right choice for everyone, said Summit Homes Construction senior project manager Caroleanne Powers.

This year, Summit High partnered with Summit County Builders Association and a nonprofit, Careers in Construction Colorado, to create a trade program for Summit County’s high school students. 

The program’s intention is to create more opportunities for students to solidify careers in trades like electricity, plumbing, construction, welding and much more, according to Powers.

Summit High School’s Oakley Van Oss has been a career and technical education teacher for the past six years, specializing in welding and construction technology. Many students have passed through Oss’s classroom, but Oss said he never expected a full-on trade program like this one to come to Summit High. 

The program was pitched in the spring of 2021 when Careers in Construction president Paul Camilla contacted the builders association. Powers said through negotiation with all three parties, including Oss from Summit High, they were able to get the program up and running for the first time this fall.

Through partnerships with the community, Oss said the program was feasible with existing Summit High School resources and with no addition full-time educators. It’s also been funded by donations, money gifted through the builders association and fundraisers along with supplemental assistance by local volunteers, Powers said.  

Through the program, students learn hands-on lessons about different trades, perform projects like building the schools’ theater sets, go on field trips and even learn employability skills. Powers said even if students don’t want to go into a construction career, those skills are transferable to other professions. 

Oss was also a Spanish teacher for almost two decades before taking on this role. His language skills have enabled him to teach Spanish-speaking students alongside those who speak English. 

So far, 45 students have enrolled, and Oss said he’s heard great things from students, mainly about the support they’ve received from the community. 

Almost weekly, Oss said a trade expert from the Summit County community visits the students to teach them about different trade skills. Students have learned job site safety, blueprint reading, construction math, roofing and much more, Oss said. 

“They have definitely talked about how amazing it is to have community support,” Oss said. “To have adults that really care about them and that are taking time out of their day to come and teach them something new and different.”

Even one of Oss’s previous students, who graduated just last year, came in to speak to his students. 

Oss said after graduation, the student went on to work for Xcel energy and is now, according to Oss, making good money and doing well for himself. In addition, many of the students in the program — who Oss said are mostly juniors and seniors  — were good friends with him before graduation. Therefore, students were shocked and pleased to see him walk into their class.

“To see him making really good money, to see him happy — he was one of the guys,” Oss said. “They were all so appreciative that a young person was interested in doing what they do. … It was like it had come full circle.”

Under the surface, Oss said he feels like the program is changing the narrative about trade careers at Summit High. Instead of trade being a second, less-preferable option to college, Oss said kids are now seeing trades as a great career option. 

“Companies that are right here in Summit are telling the kids, ‘We want you, we need you, we will pay you great money and give you benefits and pay for clothes and boots,’” Oss said. “I mean, it’s just amazing.”

Powers said she believes students can benefit from that kind of message. 

“You can make a really good living, provide for your family, and have a successful career without going to college,” Powers said. “I think that’s important for students to know that there are options available besides college.”

Powers also said many of the students are already being recruited by local companies in light of a recent job shortage amongst trade careers. 

“There’s just a huge demand in our economy right now for this,” Powers said. “There is a massive labor shortage in the construction industry right now, so I think it’s really the need that is kind of driving this.” 

As of now, Powers said the program will be renewed for another year. In January, students can register for next fall’s program. There are no age limitations, and all it takes is a simple enrollment process. 

Because of the demand, Powers added that additional funding was needed to keep the program in the works. So far, they’ve secured grants from Careers in Construction, the Summit Foundation and more. To donate, Powers said folks can reach out to the builders association by calling 970-668-6013.

“The community has been very generous in supporting the program,” Powers said.

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