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The Sky(scraper)’s the Limit with HACP, PPS’ New Carpentry Co-Op Program

May 2, 2024

Pittsburgh area high schoolers are learning valuable hands-on skills through the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh’s (HACP) new Carpentry Co-Op Program, in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The program, launched in early March 2024, is led by Misty Clark, Senior Project Manager in HACP’s Central Facilities Management. She currently works with two students, Caleb Bush and Mason Maxwell, who are enrolled in Carrick High School’s Career & Technical Education Carpentry Program.

“The type of learning provided through the CTE program in Pittsburgh Public Schools is a great addition that many students are not able to receive in their classrooms,” says Mayor Ed Gainey. “What’s being taught, and, more importantly, how it’s being taught, will create an influx of young talent in the workforce ultimately making our local economy richer and more diverse.”

Clark teaches Caleb and Mason three days a week until May 30. Work is done in Bedford Dwellings in the Hill District – both in HACP’s carpenter’s shop at 22 Bedford Ave. and in some apartments that are currently under renovation.

With Clark’s expertise, Caleb and Mason are gaining real-world experience that will help them when they enter the Carpenters’ Union in May. The skyscraper’s literally the limit for the number of projects they will work on once they begin their careers as commercial carpenters.

Caleb says he was looking into different programs that he may be interested in joining, and opted to enroll in carpentry.

“I started liking it over the years, and I’ve made a lot of friends through it,” he says. “I’ve also helped some of my friends join the program.”

Mason says he has been studying carpentry at Carrick for the past three years.

“My interest in carpentry started when I was young,” he adds. “My dad was a contractor who did his own work, building decks and drywall, and that made me want to do it myself.”

Both Caleb and Mason agree the Carpentry Co-Op is expanding their knowledge and hands-on experience.

“We can only do so much at school,” Mason notes. “This expands what we do at school. One big thing we are learning here that we’ve never done before is floor tile. Mrs. Clark is really nice and cool, and she treats us well. She shows us things we didn’t know.”

“Mrs. Clark also teaches us little helpful tips and tricks that will prepare us for the union,” adds Caleb. “If I ever want to build my own house or something, I’ve learned new skills because of her, like cutting and laying floor tiles.”

He adds Clark gave them personalized tool bags they can take with them.

“She didn’t even know us, but she made sure we had what we needed on the job. I think that speaks of the program and staff at HACP,” Caleb says.

Caleb and Mason both enjoy building things from scratch, especially seeing the finished product.

“It’s a good feeling knowing that I built that,” he says. “Not a lot of people do what we do.”

Caleb and Mason have also learned the difference between hanging left-hand and right-hand doors, cutting different materials, machine safety, and adding baseboards in the apartment. They will also learn to work with smaller tools, hang towel bars and other measures needed to ready an apartment for inspection, and read blueprints, among other skills.

Caleb and Mason also credit Tom Bender, Council Representative with the Carpenters’ Union Local 432, with growing their interest in the trade.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but he helped us figure out what we want for our future. I’m not saying we’re set yet, but we have a pretty good future planned,” Caleb says.

As they continue their education, Caleb says he hopes to learn a little bit of everything, including working with metal studs and welding.

Clark has worked for HACP since 2005, and enjoys making the tenants happy and working together with fellow staff as a team.

She says she is excited to grow the program and continue teaching students the ins and outs of carpentry.

“Hopefully, the housing authority can hire one or more of the students one day,” she adds.

Kristen Johnson, Cooperative Education Coordinator with Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Career & Technical Education program, says the program is better than she could have imagined.

“Misty has been exceptionally organized and helpful. She has put a lot of thought and effort into making sure the students are having an excellent experience and gaining new skills. She has been in constant communication with me, as well making sure that we are all doing what is in the best interest of the students,” she says.

Johnson notes this is the first full year of co-op programs in Pittsburgh Public Schools in more than a decade. She works with seniors in the Career & Technical Education programs to help them find jobs during their last year to help them gain more hands-on experience and skills. She says they hope to expand their reach with more partnerships for students to work with in the future, to help them “grow beyond the classroom walls and begin their professional journey in industry.”

“I encourage all students to think about what they want their day-to-day life to be like and create a career path that aligns with their values. To do this, students need experiences. I think students who are in CTE programs have more support in identifying a variety of pathways where they can find their passion,” Johnson adds.

Michelle Ralston, HACP’s Senior Director of Facility Services, says, “HACP is able to provide maintenance service to our residents due to the hard work of our skilled trades. We should promote the benefits of pursuing a career in the trades, such as job security and competitive salaries. By supporting and encouraging youth to explore the trades we can help them discover their passion and potential in a rewarding and fulfilling career, thus supporting a skilled and thriving workforce for the future.”

Caleb and Mason have the following advice for fellow students seeking similar career paths.

“Do it. Work hard and put your mind to it. This isn’t a job where you can slack off,” Mason says.

Caleb also advises them to always pay attention.

“Learn as much as you can, as often as you can,” he adds.

Pittsburgh Public Schools students interested in the Carpentry Co-Op Program should contact Kristen Johnson at: 412-757-2184 or via email at: kjohnson1@pghschools.org.