Construction is booming in Northeast Tennessee for homes and businesses. Also booming is education in the construction trades, with students currently studying carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical and HVAC at the former Sullivan North High School in Kingsport.
And more opportunities are coming, with Northeast State Community College receiving a $100,000 commitment to focus on construction trade skills, professional development and small business support to inspire students in the trades and technology. In Hawkins County, the school district has started a machine tool career and technical education course at Cherokee High School.
Why all this activity in building skillsets in the construction trades? Because that work pays very well, better than many four-year college degree programs. There are about 7.4 million people employed in the construction industry, according to 2021 data assembled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average hourly pay is $32.11, which makes the average construction worker’s annual salary approximately $64,220.
Money on the Table
But there’s a lot more money on the table, depending on training and expertise. Heavy equipment operators can earn more than $80,000, pile driver operators $62,000 and operating engineers and other construction equipment operators $50,000.
The BLS says the median annual income for construction managers in 2019 was $95,000. The highest 10% earned more than $165,000.
Classes at Kingsport began in January through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton. TCAT utilizes an open-ended enrollment model, so as one student completes training and graduates, a new student is enrolled.
“This new program is wonderful for Kingsport and the citizens of this region because there are not many industries growing faster than construction,” said Alderman James Phillips. “If you are looking for a good paying job and love to work with your hands, the new TCAT construction program is perfect.”
Most recently, homebuilder D.R. Horton and the Sync Space Entrepreneur Center are investing $50,000 each to create a workforce construction trades program at Northeast State. Why such a commitment from the nation’s top homebuilder? Because Northeast Tennessee has become one of the fastest-growing residential markets for D.R. Horton.
By the end of last year, D.R. Horton had closed on more than 250 homes in the region and anticipates another 500 closings over the next 12 months. The economic impact of this investment will be more than $300 million this year, according to the company, with plans to increase its investment to an estimated $500 million next year.
Just the Beginning
The company says that’s just the beginning of its vision for the region.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth and embracement from the region,” said Barak Saltzman, vice president of city operations at D.R. Horton.
The program is scheduled to launch this fall at Northeast State. To learn more about it, visit syncspace.org/drhorton.
Meanwhile, the Hawkins County School District has started a machine tool career and technical education course at Cherokee. The new CTE program will teach students skills to take raw material and make it into a finished product using lathes, mills or grinders, said machine tool instructor Mike Jones.
The school system also received assistance with starting the program from TCAT Morristown.
As Jones explained, “There is a difference between a skilled worker and a non-skilled worker. Skilled workers get a better job, and the pay is almost double. It’s the difference between driving a $1,000 vehicle or going to get a brand new vehicle. It’s a better quality of life. You can enjoy life better, and you don’t have to work as many hours to make ends meet.”