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Highway construction sometimes seems to go on forever. Take a drive on Interstates 495, 93 or 95, and you’re bound to see workers at some point. Maybe they’re adding a lane or repairing a bridge or in the middle of some other major, multiyear project, or maybe they’re simply performing routine maintenance. They just always seem to be there, always working.
But what happens when those highway construction workers retire? They can’t work forever. Who’ll replace them?
That’s where vocational-technical schools come in. Thomas Lemon, too.
Lemon, the lead instructor for the Hopkinton-based Massachusetts Pre-Apprenticeship and Vocational School Training Program, said the top issue facing the construction trades — not just in Massachusetts but across the country — is laborers retiring. And the other side of the coin — no one to replace them.
So the Massachusetts Department of Transportation — MassDOT, for short — funded a training program to prepare students in vocational-technical schools to enter the workforce to replace those laborers who have worked hard and earned the right to retire.
“MassDOT put its heads together and said, ‘We need to address the aging workforce.’ So, basically,” Lemon said, “we’re forming a pipeline of vocational-technical students to replace the men and women that are retiring.”
Lemon recently led a weeklong training program for nine seniors at Nashoba Valley Technical High School, from such technical programs as Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing, Carpentry and Plumbing & Heating.
Lemon said there are 15 construction trades in Massachusetts and that the laborers in those trades are “the special forces” when it comes to highway construction projects.
“They’re the front-line soldiers,” he said. “Hey, they can’t all be generals. These men and women are the first ones on the job and the last to leave. They’re there when the first nail is hammered until the final broom is swept.”
The week of training included lessons in surveying; concrete mixing and framing; certification in CPR and first aid; highway work-zone safety; and what Lemon calls “soft skills,” i.e., interview skills, work ethic and construction safety. It also included a field trip to the training academy’s Hopkinton base.
“I’ve been to about 85 percent of the vocational-technical schools in the state, and these kids here at Nashoba Tech are some of the best and most well-behaved I’ve seen,” Lemon said.
Jobee O’Sullivan, director of postsecondary, continuing and community education, said the training program was invaluable to the nine Nashoba Tech seniors.
“The weeklong program was full of projects, hard work, enthusiasm, laughter and eye-opening experiences,” she said. Our students’ behavior was outstanding, demonstrating respect for each other and the instructors, and quite a bit of teamwork. The instructors raved about how respectful they were, what a great group they were to work with, and how difficult it was to identify a top student. The way they conducted themselves will enable the program to be available for future students.”
Students who participated in the training are, from Advanced Manufacturing, Michael McGurn (Westford) and Brandon Reis (Pepperell); from Automotive Collision Repair & Refinishing, Brendon Junod (Townsend) and Colton Ranger (Townsend); from Carpentry, Jarrod Beirholm (Townsend) and Jake Walker (Groton); and from Plumbing & Heating, Sean Casey (Chelmsford), Luke McKenna (Shirley) and Eli Norton (Ayer).
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