Building Trades Academy: Gearing Up for Successful Careers

Instructor Bob Garling teaches Darry’lynn Olds skills to last a lifetime.
Hands-on work runs in her family, so Darry’lynn Olds of Chesapeake jumped at the chance to enroll in the Tidewater Builders Association’s Building Trades Academy. Darry’lynn, 23, is among Hampton Roads adults learning carpentry, electrical work, heating, cooling, appliance repair and plumbing.

“The goal of the Building Trades Academy is to place students in careers,” says Erasto Beard, program director. In the past 36 years more than 4,000 students, mostly in their 20s and 30s, have gone through the academy and on to jobs they enjoy.

In 2017 the academy expanded its enrollment from 100 to 115 students and thanks to a $10,950 grant from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Most students coming into the program are unemployed and lack marketable job skills. With more funding, the academy could train even more students for careers.

With a bulletin board full of job postings, students who complete the program usually land employment with area property maintenance or construction firms. In 2016, 81 percent of the academy’s students found full-time jobs. Recent graduates work at Sears Appliance repair, Farm Bureau Live and apartment management companies managed by S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co., The Breeden Company and The Lawson Companies.

In addition to its free, 12-week training course and internships, the academy prepares students for certification in property-maintenance technical fields. Hands-on lessons are taught in classrooms filled with saws and drills plus building materials donated by Tidewater Builders Association members. Instructors also teach soft skills such as the importance of showing up on time every day and dealing with conflict to help students gain and keep jobs.

Darry’lynn, who has an associates degree in criminal justice, says the well-rounded approach is valuable. Through the Building Trades Academy, she gained hands-on experience with an internship at Park Towne Apartments in Norfolk. That is the same complex where Sean Warren, 36, landed a job after graduating from the academy in 2016.

“I already had a background in carpentry, but this program touched on the basics in everything – electricity, plumbing, heating, air conditioning and more,” Sean says. “So things are working out really good.” He enjoys preparing apartments for new residents and making In the Community repairs.

The academy is “a good place to go if you want to get into the construction or maintenance fields,” Sean says. In addition to providing excellent training, it is “a positive environment and good for networking.”

“This was a perfect opportunity,” says Darry’lynn. “I’m so glad I chose this program, and I’m telling others as well.”

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