New construction workers need math skills

When construction comes back, skilled workers will be needed to replace those pushed into early retirement by the long slump. But many young people don’t have the math skills to learn construction jobs, contractors fear.

Associated General Contractors of America’s regional chapters are supporting about a dozen construction charter schools or construction career academies across the nation, reports McClatchy Newspapers.  “In addition, many are involved in high schools and outreach programs designed to teach basic math skills to young men and women.”

Even if students get passing grades in math — and that’s a fairly big if — they’re not being taught how math applies to the work site.

And construction is all about math. Everything from carpentry and brickwork to grading and sloping involves math.

Construction veterans are shocked at how few graduating students have functional math abilities. That’s why associations and contractors are trying to teach applied math skills.

“If it’s just a page in a book, and here’s the formula and here’s how you put it together, there is no understanding of what it does for you,” (Ted) Aadland, (president of the contractors’ group) said. “Why would you, how would you figure the volume and area? That’s what really clicks with people.”

Joe Youcha, executive director of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, works in schools and with courts and community groups to teach applied math across all grade levels. He also runs a boat-building apprenticeship program.

Youcha’s program starts with basic math. In fact, he wrote an instructional book for a Virginia carpenter’s union that requires a high school diploma or GED. When he was first approached, Youcha assumed that it would involve everything from advanced ruler reading to trigonometry.”They were like, ‘No. You have to start with place-value charts, whole numbers and addition and subtraction,’ ” said Youcha, who has an Ivy League degree in history but found his calling teaching applied math. “They come out of school not being able to name the number in front of them. They can’t tell you that 1,075 is one thousand and seventy-five. And they come with a degree.”

Increasingly, construction jobs require the ability to run computerized equipment, says  Aadland.  “All our grading now with heavy equipment is all computerized, and everything is done by satellite in bringing down grades. The industry is really reacting and training the craftspeople as we go.”

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