Eye on Education: A different kind of home school

OREGON, Wis. — It’s a field that’s desperate for workers, but a program in the Madison area is giving kids some hands-on experience and a possible career path in skilled labor.

Chris Prahl is a licensed teacher — and a licensed contractor. His crew is made up of Oregon high schoolers building a house.

“I hope that when they leave here, they’ll at least have some base knowledge regardless of what they want to do,” Prahl said.

They shadow-trained professionals and do a lot of the work themselves. Students like Ariel Carlos are there from start to finish.

“For me, I just like seeing how it starts, time passes, and then once you’re done you sit back and look at the finished product and look back at how good it looks, (it) feels better at the end of the day because you can see what you did,” Carlos said.

After graduation, the students should easily be able to find a job, because the demand for skilled labor is sky-high.

“We’ve been struggling with a lack of young people really coming into the industry,” Kevin Ponder of People Ready Skilled Trades said.

Ponder helps track job openings online. His company’s data shows skilled labor demand is up 85% in Wisconsin since last year. The most in-demand trade jobs are electricians, carpenters, plumbers and painters.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for people who enjoy working with their hands, enjoy being outside, building something, and know it’s going to be there 20 to 30 years later,” Ponder said.

Ponder says pay typically starts at about $15 per hour, but after four years of certified training, skilled workers could make about $70,000 per year.