Students get tools they need to thrive

Adam Hatfield, a 2020 graduate of The Villages High School, takes inventory of doors at MiCo Customs at the Gov. Rick Scott Industrial Park. Hatfield learned marketable job skills in the VHS Construction Management Academy.

As demand for skilled construction and trade workers climbs, local students who dream of working in these industries are getting a head start. Schools, businesses and organizations give students the tools they need to thrive in these careers through opportunities such as apprenticeships, scholarships and studying in school training academies such as The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy. “I chose construction as a career because of the academy,” said Brock Esarey, a graduate of the VHS class of 2021, who works for The Villages Residential Construction and Home Warranty as an assistant superintendent. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do before, but once I joined the construction academy I instantly knew construction was what I wanted to do.”

The community needs employees like Esarey — construction jobs make up 9.8% of Sumter County’s employment, with trades, transportation and utilities industries forming 18.2%, according to the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research of Florida.

Each year more than a dozen students participate in VHS’ Construction Management Academy. Students earn industry certifications and gain-on-the job experience building homes for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s affordable housing program and working on other construction projects.

Other past students of VHS’ Construction Management Academy include Adam Hatfield, inventory manager at MiCo Customs in Gov. Rick Scott Industrial Park.

Hatfield said what he learned in the academy, especially from instructor Bruce Haberle, prepared him for his career. 

“He provided a great foundation for getting into construction, and it has definitely provided me with the knowledge I needed for this industry,” he said.

The demand for workers like Esarey and Hatfield is increasing.

Florida’s construction jobs total 585,900 according to a November 2021 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase of 4.9% over the past 12 months.

Public schools in the tri-county area also are contributing to this workforce with Leesburg High School offering its own construction academy and Wildwood Middle High School offering an HVAC program, which is in its inaugural year.

SECO Energy will issue $36,000 in scholarships to 12 students this year to further incentivize them to go into the energy industry.

About 113,000 people work in Florida’s energy industry, according to the 2021 U.S. Energy and Employment Report.

This number has declined by 9% from 2020, partially because many of the industry’s workers reached retirement age, according to a SECO news release announcing the scholarships.

This also is the first year students in Sumter County have the opportunity to apply for summer pre-apprenticeships through the Academy of Construction Technologies.

ACT partners with dozens of construction businesses to provide pre-apprenticeships to high school students enrolled in construction and technical programs in Lake, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Osceola counties, and now Sumter.

Sumter County School District approached ACT about offering their pre-apprenticeships to Sumter’s students.

Nancy Merced, executive director of ACT, said ACT looks at the school’s curriculum and demand when adding a school district.

“We vet where we will have the most impact,” Merced said. “We ensure everyone is looking for this.”

ACT expects at least 25 students from Sumter County to participate in its pre-apprenticeships this summer, with plans to expand. Most counties the group works with eventually grow to 100 students participating per school district.

Merced said she sees a “national crisis” to find trained and young employment, and ACT offers students a competitive edge with area employers.

“They’re looking for youth in their companies, as they hope for longevity of employments in their companies,” Merced said.

Hatfield hopes local students will continue working hard to find opportunities in these industries.

“Working in the field was great,” Hatfield said. “It is all about work ethic and attitude. That would be the best advice I can give anyone looking to get into the academy — you have to keep a good attitude and really apply yourself to this type of work.”

Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or garrett.shiflet@thevillagesmedia.