Flagler County Home Builders Association, and several local businesses, are taking an active interest in making sure the construction industry has skilled workers in the future.
Construction workers, their white rubber boots sinking into poured concrete, stood ready with rakes, shovels and levels, as the next batch of concrete sloshed down the chute. The crew was working on a raised concrete slab behind Matanzas High School. There was little chatter, just the sound of rakes scraping and the truck’s barrel rotating. Everyone was focused on the job at hand.
Then the Matanzas High School bell rang, and Vinnie Oliveri’s career and technical construction students continue onto their next classes.
Jason DeLorenzo, the government services director for the Flagler Home Builders Association, was on site, as was debi Peterson the executive officer. They were at the school ensuring there would be a “next generation” of skilled construction workers.
“This is our first collaboration with the high school,” DeLorenzo said. “We are already working with the school district in all five elementary schools with the Brick Builders Club.”
DeLorenzo said he and the FCHBA approached the high school 18 months ago about becoming involved in the construction tech program.
“We are advancing it from shop class to construction class,” DeLorenzo said. “They are lucky to have Vinnie Oliveri as the teacher. He is a former home builder. He knows from start to finish how to build a house, so that’s where this focus on construction is coming from.”
The raised foundation the classes worked on will serve two purposes. Half of the area will be used to house a shed. The second half will be for students next year and beyond to build a house from the ground up.
“This year the shed will be built, and completed, by the end of the school year,” Peterson said.
“Starting next year, the kids will come out and do whatever Vinnie is teaching them at that time; they can do a mason corner, frame up an interior wall, or frame windows and doors,” DeLorenzo said. “Instead of being in a tiny classroom, where they really don’t have any room for that, we are going to have them outside, where they can learn how to build full-size, and learn how to do all of those things.
Each year a house will be built on part of the slab, and then torn down, making room for the next class to start again.
Starting them young
The Brick Builders clubs are extracurricular activities, held either before or after school. The students receive a visit from FHBA members who introduce them to “building 101,” explaining how different job skills are needed to build an entire house.
The clubs build Lego houses which are judged by FCHBA. The top home from each school is featured in the organization’s annual Parade of Homes.
The collaboration between the Flagler Home Builders and the school district is in direct response to a trend DeLorenzo has seen, a dwindling construction labor force.
“Through the recession we lost a lot of “and sons” family businesses. The recession hit so hard, people left the business or retrained in something else,” DeLorenzo said. “We are working on this kindergarten to career program to get the kids interested in construction, to make sure we can fill our staff needs.”
Not to be left out, the middle school students are participating for the first time this year.
“This year Buddy Taylor Middle School started a builder’s club,” DeLorenzo said. “The first half of the year these Matanzas kids are prefabbing picnic tables. They are doing all of the cutting and drilling and they will deliver them to Buddy Taylor and those kids will assemble them.”
“They’ve already delivered them,” Peterson said to a surprised DeLorenzo. “They were supposed to be delivered Oct. 1 but they are ahead of schedule.”
The tables will be used at the school as additional outside lunchtime seating.
The Buddy Taylor and Matanzas will also be an integral part of this year’s Santa’s Village at the Rotary Club’s Fantasy of Lights in Town Center.
“Matanzas students will do the precutting and Buddy Taylor will assemble and paint them,” DeLorenzo said.
Former custom home builder to teacher
Vinnie Oliveri has been the construction tech teacher for the past four years at Matanzas High School. A former custom home builder in the area, he sold his company in order to prepare the next generation, but he also wants something back – 100 % from his “crew.”
“I am not a Marine by any means, but I run a tight ship. I was raised by a military father. I expect, that when it’s time for work, that’s all we do,” Oliveri said. “I could be making six figures a year compared to what I make. I am giving them all of me, and I expect them to give me all of them in return.”
Oliveri tells his students that after four years there is a prize -- job placement.
“If you are all in, I promise you there’s a prize at the end of it,” Oliveri. “Whether you go to college for it or you don’t, you can have a career.”
Not all of the lessons are physical. Oliveri said he gets into the business aspects, and the students learn what it takes to form a C corporation and S corporation.
“We are trying to put Matanzas High School and Flagler County on the map for having the best program in the State of Florida and hopefully nationally,” Oliveri said.
What to expect: The student perspective
Julian Gomez spent much of the morning pushing a long-handled float across the wet concrete to smooth it out. The sophomore has some construction experience. His father built houses, and Julian has helped him pour concrete, and build sheds and pump houses, at home.
What is his advice to anyone interested in taking Oliveri’s class?
“Look forward to doing hard work,” Julian said. “There will be fun days, and then there are other days that you have to get your stuff done.”
MHS junior Ethan Caballeros admitted he signed up for the class because it sounded easy and he liked building things.
“We were building bird houses, and then it started getting interesting my second year,” Ethan said. “My second year was when it started growing into this.”
Debbie Butler, now a senior, was on Coach Oliveri’s softball team when she heard about the program.
“I grew up with a lot of boys, and I like to be outside and build stuff. It’s fun,” she said.
Sophomore Kayla Bird isn’t sure how she got involved in the class. She didn’t sign up for the elective but it was on her schedule her freshman year.
“I didn’t want it at first,” Kayla admitted. “But then we started doing things and I liked it, so I stayed.”
“I didn’t even know we had a construction class,” junior LeAsia Lugo said. “In my sophomore year I wanted to do it because I like building stuff. My mom grew up independent, and down the road, if I have to do something, I will know how to do it. I won’t need a man or someone else to do it for me.”
One volunteer is a graduate of Matanzas and of Oliveri’s class, Mannix Leach. After some time in the military, he has returned to do what Oliveri had recommended while he was in high school – go into construction.
“He’s been a great mentor for me and that’s the reason I came back,” Leach said.
Some of the companies that have donated time and materials:
Titan America Concrete
Santos & Sons Concrete– Ronnie Aguilar, concrete contractor
Joseph Pozzuoli Architects
ABS Garage Door