SHERIDAN — Andy McFaul and Kevin Jacobs needed to try something new.
McFaul and Jacobs — the president and project manager at Excalibur Construction, respectively — wanted to increase interest in trade jobs due to a shrinking employee pool in recent years. Around the same time, career and technical education teachers in Sheridan County School District 1 discussed ways for kids to experience more hands-on opportunities.
A newer event Thursday represented the merging of those ideas, as high school students from Big Horn and Tongue River went on a field day hosted by Excalibur at the Aspen Grove subdivision in the southwest part of Sheridan.
The students received tours Thursday morning of several homes still under construction and asked questions to some of the general contractors at Excalibur. After the tours, lunch was provided with the assistance of several local companies.
The Aspen Grove area has homes in all different stages of construction, so students — about 30 high-schoolers from Tongue River and 17 from Big Horn — looked at the different work that goes into various phases of homebuilding.
Excalibur has provided lumber for woods courses at both schools in recent years, and the field day came about as a natural progression of the company’s involvement with local schools. Excalibur had not done an event like this before and aims to provide similar opportunities in the future to encourage students to consider careers in construction or related fields.
McFaul and Jacobs said the company has seen a decrease in qualified candidates in recent years due to more of an emphasis on technology and four-year degrees. The supply of potential workers will likely become more dire over the next decade.
“We’re pretty limited on the number of workforce we have, and in the next five to 10 years, I’d say we’re going to be limited to none at all,” Jacobs said.
Events like the field day could help make the next few years less painful.
John Masters, TRHS vocational and agriculture teacher, said the main point was to have students explore a different avenue they might not have considered.
TRHS senior Theron Kalasinsky concurred.
“I really think it’s interesting to see this process and also having these other young kids that aren’t sure what they’re doing yet, to have this opportunity to come out and see what’s going on in the construction world might help steer them in the right path for what they want to do,” Kalasinsky said.
Kalasinsky plans to pursue computer engineering in college and found it interesting to learn about the “smart home” aspect of new residences. That means various home devices — locks, doors, HVAC, lighting, stoves — can be controlled via cell phone.
Kalasinsky liked seeing the nitty gritty details and asking specific questions. He also enjoyed gaining a better sense of different innovations in homebuilding, such as changing the material for plumbing piping.
Big Horn High School industrial technology teacher Bret Lahyer teaches courses in woodworking, drafting design and manufacturing.
One of his manufacturing students, junior Dugan Irby, said he didn’t know much about the home construction process beforehand and enjoyed learning about the different foundation aspects. Irby is mainly interested in music and welding but still appreciated the unique learning opportunity.
“The year’s winding down, it’s nice to take a day off for just a second, and this was a cool field trip,” Irby said.
Lahyer said the experience hopefully opened doors and expanded horizons for students and made them interested in something about which they didn’t know.
“I hope they get appreciation for the skills that we teach and can see it in a real-world application,” Lahyer said. “… Let them know what we’re doing every day is going on in the real world. Maybe pique the interest of some of them, let them know that there [are] lots of very good careers, very viable careers in these areas.”
The newer event served to open more doors for students and could results in similar activities down the road.