Building Construction Careers at Fullerton College and Santiago Canyon College Feature Story

November 29, 2022
fullerton college construction technology student

With an increased state and national focus on green construction, Orange County community colleges are training the next wave of workers skilled in creating smart buildings that are energy efficient.  

The demand for construction workers in an economy recovering from the pandemic is high. A state economic forecast for Orange County says that the construction field was expected to expand by another 5,100 jobs in 2022.

Workers who are knowledgeable in constructing energy-efficient buildings are also increasingly important with new California climate-action laws designed to accelerate the move to clean energy. The state measures have a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 and 90% clean energy by 2035. The package of laws is expected to create 4 million new jobs in the clean energy field.

To meet this projected demand, programs at Fullerton College and Santiago Canyon College are among many across the region that are training the workers of tomorrow in the energy, construction, and utility field.

Beginning in Fall 2022, students at Fullerton College’s Construction Technology program are learning about energy management and alternative energy and design in a student-constructed smart building on the college campus, said program coordinator Jonathan Keller.

Each semester, students learn about building energy automation and controls by installing lighting and heating systems in the building. The systems can constantly be rebuilt for a new set of students.

“It’s a live working lab,” Keller said. “It isn’t a fixed asset. It is always a work in progress.”

Keller said he chose Schneider Electric systems for the building because it interfaces well with other automation systems the students might encounter on the job. Schneider Electric agreed to offer a discount on their product to the college.

“When students are trained on Schneider, they will understand the building automation control network on alternative systems,” he said.

The building also incorporates an integrated solar charging system and a battery and vehicle charging station. When the building calls for energy, the automated system will determine whether the vehicle batteries are charging or can be called on to power lighting or cooling.

More than 200 students are in the Construction Technology program, and Keller said the training in automation controls will serve them well when they enter the workforce.

“We’re producing people who can get a job,” he said. “We’re giving life skills to our students.”

Another program training construction workers is offered through Santiago Canyon College. The college’s apprenticeship program, offered in conjunction with businesses, labor unions and the Division of Apprenticeship Standards, is the largest in the California community college system, with more than 4,500 students.

The apprenticeships offer students the opportunity to learn while they are being paid and practicing occupational skills under the guidance of skilled workers. Typical annual pay ranges from $16,000 to $40,000 the first year, increasing to a range between $40,000 to $481,000 annually after three to four years.

SCC’s extensive list of apprenticeships include:

The program is a partnership between local unions, which provide the experts and jobs, and Santiago Canyon College, which is responsible for accrediting the curriculum and instructors. Students work at their approved job site Monday through Friday, then attend a training program on Saturday.

The Operating Engineers Training Trust apprenticeship program is offered in partnership with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12. The popular program, which used to offer an application period every two years, now opens its applications every six months due to job demand. The next application period will be in February 2023, said Larry Hopkins, director of training.

“This will give candidates more opportunity to test and keep our applicant list more current,” Hopkins said.

Similarly, the Southwest Carpenters Training Fund, which works with Santiago Canyon College to offer apprenticeships, provides training for those who want to enter the field of carpentry. Carpentry apprentices earn $17.78 an hour their first year, increasing to $44.44 an hour after a student reaches journeyman status in four years. That can add up to as much as $189,000 in total wages over four years as an apprentice, noted Louis Ontiveros, executive director of the training program.

Ontiveros said working in construction can be a satisfying and well-paid career.

“It’s hard work. But it can be very fruitful,” he said. “We don’t work in an office. You go from one job to the next and it’s always something new. You work with your hands, and I loved it.”

Click here to learn more about Fullerton’s Construction Technology program, and here to learn about SCC’s apprenticeship offerings