Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Construction Trades demand strong, SMC Board of Trustees hears

04/18/2018 - 3pm
Carlyn McClelland

Southwestern Michigan College's impact on the Construction Trades field was made clear at its April 16 Board of Trustees meeting.​ High demand for skilled construction trades professionals has created a shortage of trained workers, leaving good-paying jobs unfilled. SMC's expanding program in Construction Trades is helping to meet that need.

SMC Construction Trades' faculty member Carlyn McClelland, accompanied by her mentor, Advanced Technology Chair and Construction Trades faculty member Larry Wilson, told the Board of Trustees that “It’s important for us as a college to include skilled trades programs because of the significant gap between organizations’ needs and current capabilities of the available workforce. In the skilled trades in the United States and throughout our region right now we have a huge shortage — an estimated 5.6 million jobs. For instance, in the RV (recreational-vehicle) manufacturing industry, there are 20,000 jobs unfilled in Elkhart County alone.”

“The capital of RV manufacturing, which once had the worst unemployment rate in the U.S., is now facing labor shortages and rising home prices and wages,” The Wall Street Journal reported April 6. “My husband teaches at Central and they’re struggling to keep paraprofessionals and bus drivers because they can earn more working in factories, starting at $15-$16 an hour for unskilled labor,” McClelland said.

​​“SMC’s building trades program is second to none and the college is very proud of this program,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said. “The enthusiasm and dedication of both Larry Wilson and Carlyn McClelland make this a great offering for SMC. This is just one more example of how SMC improves our region and changes the lives of our students.”

“The board is committed to high-quality education and job training and is very pleased with the work these two instructors are doing,” President Dr. David Mathews said. “Their commitment to providing work-ready students, their caring and compassion, their connection to the local construction market and involvement with the advisory boards provide students a great experience.”

​McClelland's personal story is evidence of this kind of experience. “As a 36-year-old, stay-at-home mom of two young boys, after watching years of HGTV, I decided to come back to school to properly learn how to fix my house” in Elkhart, McClelland said. After high school, McClelland earned a Michigan State University bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and worked as a probation officer. “I was one of those high school kids with a high GPA counselors pushed toward a four-year liberal arts degree. No one ever suggested construction to me. Hands-on work can be very fulfilling,” she said of SMC redirecting her life.

“I wish I had come to a community college first. This is the family I wish I had at MSU. I can’t say enough good things about this institution,” McClelland said. “I’m teaching construction trades in St. Joseph County, Mich., in the CTE (career and technical education) program​. We try to help people see the merits of skilled trades positions. This year we have eight honors graduates in the construction trades program, and four of them are women. Shawnee Gunnett is working at Big C Lumber. Victoria Knight is starting with Habitat for Humanity of Elkhart County as volunteer coordinator. Plus, our class organized a student chapter of NAHB affiliated with the Southwestern Michigan Homebuilders Association.” 

McClelland and Knight, from Niles, won a total of $9,000 in Work Ethic Scholarships from Mike Rowe’s mikeroweWORKS Foundation.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder “is trying to create awareness of the skilled trades and get people into electrician, plumbing and carpentry jobs,” McClelland said. “We’re pretty much on a mission every day to evangelize the skilled trades” at SMC.

​The ability of SMC to partner with area high schools is another unique aspect of its Construction Trades program. McClelland noted that her St. Joseph county students finished a house in White Pigeon this year.