MISSOULA — On nearly every corner of Missoula, you’ll see and hear the commotion of construction. Since our pandemic-led housing boom, blue collar work is in high demand, and that’s great news for select students at Missoula College.
With a classroom as big as Montana’s backyard and a curriculum so hands on their diploma is actually a finished house, the sustainable construction technology program is in high demand.
“The curriculum is built around the construction process,” said program director John Freer as he supervised a class of students constructing a home from the ground up.
One student, Chris Schell, added, “Within two years, we’re gonna have this house completely done and then it will get sold and put up on a property for someone.”
Even before the pandemic, those were the selling points of pursuing a construction degree from Missoula College. “There's no better classroom, this is it,” said Freer.
While some areas of academia tiptoe around the pandemic, praying for more job postings, construction will leave the pandemic unscathed.
Freer and his students know they’re some of the lucky ones.
“I think the pandemic was a real boom for the construction industry. A lot of people have decided that they don't want to live in the cities anymore, they want to get to places like Montana, and so we've had a tremendous housing boom, and it's been a huge benefit to the industry and to our students and their prospective employment,” Freer said.
When it comes to program perks, job security is everything for the students. Just take a look at Cody Herbert. Before he came to Missoula, his toolbox focused more on particles than particle board as he studied physics in San Diego.
Realizing a desk job wasn’t for him, construction came calling. “These are skills that I can always use, and when I own my own house, it’ll be stuff that’ll always come into play, and the fact that it’s just a booming industry is even better,” said Herbert.
Chris Schell’s story isn’t that different. After bouncing around different academic buildings at the University of Montana, Schell wanted skills guaranteed to be useful forever.
“I’m mainly doing this program just to have a handyman background and be able to fix everything in my own house and build my own house,” said Schell.
Despite the pandemic's many unforeseen impacts, the resurgence of the trades instead meant security for those entering the workforce.
“All of our students leave here with a job,” said Freer.