Competition Introduces High Schoolers to Construction Trades

Two Webcor safety managers spent six weeks teaching students construction basics and helping them prepare for two-days of building.

May 10, 2023


Buhach Colony High School junior Anela Ruiz has a clearer idea what she wants to do after she graduates: either earn an engineering degree or become a construction safety manager.

A future in construction became an option after Anela participated in the 38th annual Construction Industry Education Foundation's Design-Build Competition, which took place May 3 and 4 in a parking lot at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. The Buhach team, for which Anela served as safety manager, was one of 40 Northern California schools competing in the program.

Buhach Colony -- located in Atwater, near Merced -- has no construction program. The students who participated in the competition came together in an after-school program led by Jorge Alejandre, who teaches engineering, computer science, robotics, and programming. His wife, Thuy Alejandre, teaches CAD and engineering design at the school and joined her husband to guide the rookie team with a hand from Webcor, which sponsored the team.

In total, 550 students participated in the competition, along with 50 instructors and well over 100 sponsors, including one sponsor for each school.

Like most teams, the Buhach Colony students were required to design and build a shed. (More experienced teams took on more complex projects, like a two-story playhouse and a tiny house.) For about six weeks, Regional Safety Manager Kevin Kwit and Sr. Safety Manager Paulo "Porky" Munoz spent time with the group, teaching them construction basics and helping them prepare for two-days of building.

"When we started, they couldn't swing a hammer," Kevin says. You wouldn't know it to watch the team apply what they learned to their work. While the team didn't win, "We scored 26 out of 30 points," Kevin reports, adding that points were deducted because the shed was built without scaffolding. "We had no roof to make it easier to  disassemble the shed so we could haul it away after the competition ended. Still, safety earned a near-perfect score," Kevin adds.

The students completed OSHA 10 as part of their preparation.

(One judge wrote on his scoring sheet, "Very good safety culture. Really good job!" Judges are volunteers from across the construction industry.)

Senior Micah Caballero was the project's construction manager, selected by teacher Jorge Alejandre because "he liked my leadership qualities." Micah has done odd jobs involving concrete, landscaping, and some simple woodwork. Construction is fun, he says, because he can point to a project and say, "I built that." Still, his post-graduation plans focus on marketing, though he's now interested in purshing his marketing career in the construction industry. "I want to work with media but I don't want to sit in front of a desk all day," he says.

The competition is designed to build hands-on skills and give students practical experience with the construction trades in order to spark interest in the trades as a possible career path, according to Katie Kempker, CIEF's director of youth programs. The competition has a strong Webcor connection: It was started by CIEF staffer Jim Lambert, father of Webcor Finance VP Mark Lambert. The CIEF scholarship is named for him. Mark attended the luncheon during which scholarships were awarded, along with Outreach Manager Sharla Sullivan.

Last year, for the first time, the program expanded to Southern California with a competition in San Diego; this year, the first out-of-California competition was held in Texas. Plans are in the works to expand further across the country.

Several participants from previous competitions have gone on to work in the construction trades, including one who spoke to the 2023 students at the beginning of the event.

Mark and Sr. VP Greg Chauhan were instrumental in bringing Webcor's sponsorship to Buhach Colony. In addition to Kevin and Porky, Webcorians who worked with the students included Superintendent Rafael Ramirez and Safety Manager Troy Dominici.