In 2022, South San Francisco Unified School District (SSFUSD) converted South City High’s popular woodshop class into a new building and construction program to better prepare students for college and career.
According to SSFUSD Career Technical Education Coordinator Jennifer Rockett, the decision was made in response to changing labor market trends, which forecast increased demand in San Mateo County for jobs associated with the residential and commercial construction industry such as electrician, plumber, carpenter, estimator, and building inspector between 2020 and 2025.
In contrast, wages for jobs requiring traditional woodshop skills such as cabinetry, woodworking, and millwork were projected to decline over the same time period.
“The Bay Area’s an expensive place to live,” said Rockett, “and jobs associated with the residential and commercial construction industry typically pay above $68,454, so this was a way for us to help our students gain the ability to earn a living wage after they graduate.”
Jason Brockmeyer, SSFUSD’s director of innovation and special projects, concurred.
“When kids are leaving this pathway, they're not only getting a deep dive into construction and the building trades,” he said, “but really understanding all of the various trades that are out there for them, if they so choose to go that route.”
South City High’s construction technology teacher, Tariq Ali, used to work with the carpenters’ union and most recently taught carpentry to state prisoners to provide them with job skills upon release.
He said his objective is to impart real world skills to students, provide them with information about possible career options, teach them how to manage the money they might earn in the building industry, and help develop an appreciation for the history of the building trades and the utility of unions.
“I want to take them [students] through a comprehensive curriculum that includes understanding the history of the trades,” said Ali, “then some basic safety, tool safety, some construction math, some financial literacy, and then after they’ve done that, getting them to learn some basic layout and framing skills for wall and floor construction.”
Most importantly, he stressed that the new program is open to anyone and everyone.
“Ten percent of the workforce is women, so there are a lot of women in the construction industry, and they play vital and important roles in the development of what’s being constructed around us.”