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Training the next generation of builders

ABC partners with innovative North County School

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As CEO of New Haven Youth & Family Services, a Vista social services agency that provides live-in facilities for at-risk adolescent boys, Doreen Quinn has witnessed the transformation that occurs when troubled teens are engaged in hands-on, project-based learning. Five years ago, when the community asked Quinn to translate her program into a formal learning environment for college or apprenticeship-bound adolescents from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and academic performance levels, her vision for North County Trade Tech High School was born. It became a reality when the San Diego Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), its Apprenticeship Training Trust and other industry leaders got involved.

“Teens need to have meaningful relationships with advisers who care about them and to see relevance in learning to engage them,” said Quinn, CEO and Trade Tech High board chair.

The school began in 2008 with 40 freshmen and has added one grade level each year. It serves students with an expressed interest in entering a building trade profession, focusing on five major trades: electrical, plumbing, HVAC, sheet metal and carpentry. Its integrated program meets state academic standards for high school and prepares students for skilled jobs in the construction industry by exposing them to architecture, engineering, construction, management and leadership - all central to sustainable building practices. In the 2011-2012 academic year, North County Trade Tech High School will serve 160 to 180 students and graduate its first senior class.

Sherry Yarbrough, executive director of the San Diego ABC Apprenticeship Training Trust, is an industry representative on Trade Tech's board. Yarbrough said the trust’s partnership with Trade Tech is a natural fit: The construction industry needs a skilled labor force. ABC is building a skilled labor force with its four-year state and federally registered apprenticeship program and is looking for bright, motivated people to join that program.

ABC San Diego presented North County Trade Tech High School with a $5,000 check to purchase power tools and other equipment.

ABC advises on Trade Tech’s curriculum to ensure that graduates have a seamless transition into apprenticeship programs, if that’s a path they chose to take. Yarbrough said Trade Tech’s curriculum is similar to what an entry-level apprentice would receive. Teachers are also certified construction and green building instructors through the National Center for Construction Education & Research. According to Quinn, Trade Tech students that test out at mastery level will enjoy an accelerated apprenticeship program due to their curriculum, on-the-job training and service learning hours.

Through its partnership, and guest speaker and mentoring programs, ABC hopes to plant a seed that will encourage adolescents who like to build things to consider the construction industry. In addition to enjoying careers as architects, graphic designers or civil engineers, Yarbrough hopes some of these young men and women will enter the skilled trades through an apprenticeship program and see that ABC is a great choice.

Trade Tech’s curriculum also has a civic component. On their latest community service project, students translated concepts they learned in the classroom to designing and building scale models of structurally sound bridges, as well as constructing wheelchair ramps for low-income seniors.

“If we want to be a thriving community, we have to address projects, not for their own sake, but to solve real world problems that make the community and our world a better place,” Quinn said.

Tim Umbarger, former president of Good & Roberts, brought Quinn’s vision to the attention of Yarbrough, and is a trustee on both the ABC Training Trust and Trade Tech boards. Since retiring last April, Umbarger volunteers three days a week in the construction lab.

“The historical relationship between a journeyman and an apprentice is built into the model kids need,” said Quinn. “To see Tim in that real world and the relationships that are taking place is awesome. The kids look up to him a great deal.”

In the 1970s, Umbarger took ABC apprenticeship carpenter classes and caught the attention of instructor Stan Roberts, one of the founders of Good & Roberts. Umbarger joined the new company as its first carpenter, worked his way up to supervisor, then project manager, and was president for 10 years before he retired.

“The construction industry gave me quite a bit financially and was personally satisfying,” Umbarger said. “I share that with the kids. If you put your mind to whatever you want to do, try hard and do a good job, you can succeed.”

Earlier this month, Scott Crosby, president and CEO of ABC San Diego, presented the school with a $5,000 check to purchase power tools and other equipment students need to complete the construction component of their education.

In addition to financial support, ABC members have donated time, materials and services to the school. Yarbrough said ABC is working with the school to establish summer internships in construction or construction-related jobs. Trade Tech is hosting a job fair in May and is looking to companies in San Diego’s North County to consider taking on students as summer interns.

Regardless of whether or not any of High Tech High’s graduates enroll in an ABC apprenticeship program or end up working for ABC member contractors, Yarbrough believes ABC’s investment is good for an industry that doesn’t always enjoy a stellar image as a career option.

“If you’ve got a school that is focused on the positives and the career opportunities, whether they end up with ABC or somewhere else, it’s a benefit to the entire industry,” Yarbrough said.


James is a Carlsbad-based freelance writer.

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New Haven Youth & Family Services

Company Website

216 W. Los Angeles Ave.
Vista, CA 92083

New Haven Youth & Family Services Executive(s):

Doreen Quinn

  • Chief Executive Officer