CPI gives hands-on experience to future builders

The non-profit foundation combines education and hands-on training while preserving national landmarks.

Field school participants work on cell house stairs.

The construction industry is in dire straits. While the field is poised for dynamic growth over the next 10 years, economists advise it will need to add a net new 800,000 employees to get back on track, and presently, the numbers are just not there. The Great Recession has shed 2.3 million skilled workers. Close to a quarter of the industry is an aging workforce—23 percent are aged 55 or older. In addition, construction finds itself in the middle of talent wars, competing with other industries for today’s best and brightest. To not fall behind in a crowded marketplace, the construction industry needs to take a new approach to recruiting.

This is where the Concrete Preservation Institute could make a small but significant contribution by taking a non-traditional approach to attracting talent.

CPI is a non-profit dedicated to exposing young people, military veterans and active duty servicemen and women to concrete preservation. Founded in 2010 by Tanya Komas, Ph.D., professor emeritus at California State University Chico and former Chair of the Concrete Industry Management program, CPI partners with the National Park Service as well as industry employers, such as BASF to operate a learning program at Alcatraz Island and Pearl Harbor.

“In addition to the ongoing classroom and hands-on CPI curriculum, our students benefit immensely from the guidance of the BASF restoration experts,” said Komas in a statement. “I am not aware of any other place in the world that is so well-suited for the training of construction talents”.

BASF is the founding sponsor of the Field School at Alcatraz and a contributor to the Field School at Pearl Harbor. The chemical company provides financial support, concrete repair and protection materials as well as technical advice on restoration. Together, these programs are reaching a new audience for the construction industry, providing individuals the opportunity to experience the concrete preservation field as they are deciding upon a career path. 


BASF's Robin Bellamy consults with field school participants.
BASF's Robin Bellamy consults with field school participants on preserving Alcatraz Island.

The Field School is a 12-week immersive learning program where participants absorb a wide range of industry topics and then apply their learning to actual concrete structures in need of repair. Participants receive instruction from CPI’s expert staff along with experts from the National Park Service, industry leaders and restoration experts from BASF. The curriculum begins with safety as participants complete OSHA 10—an online training course that teaches recognition, avoidance, abatement and prevention of safety and health hazards at the workplace. The program includes a wide range of topics including plan reading, project management, material science, surface preparation and concrete repair approaches. Each Field School team completes a capstone project where they are given a preservation challenge and are required to develop a strategy, create a project plan and then execute the plan from start to finish.

“You see the pictures of how things were, you see how they are now, and you return them to this functional and safe form … every minute is rewarding here on Alcatraz”, said Danny Lakowski, a field school participant.

The Field School at Alcatraz Island is open to people age 18 or older and does not require previous construction experience. College students seeking an internship experience, military veterans and active duty servicemen and women are ideal candidates for the program. In addition to the experience gained through the Field School, participants earn 480 volunteer hours through the National Park Service, gain exposure to the latest advances in concrete restoration materials and get to interface with leaders from industry employers. Participants gain valuable experience that they can apply right away as they enter the construction industry. Field School participants who decide to enter the construction trade experience 100 percent job placement. Moreover, the work they do helps to preserve and protect historic structures for future generations.

 “I benefitted from the program a lot as I learned how to handle tools and how to better communicate with my co-workers,” said participant Banessa Rios.

“If you are looking for something unique and valuable to do, something to branch out into the concrete industry, this is an excellent program,” added military-veteran participant Matthew Brittin.


Published by Christopher Perego.

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