Trade Gap

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Good Jobs Available in the Building Industry, but More Training Opportunities Needed

By Karen Gardner. Photography by Turner Photography Studio

On one day, the students in Brett Maceikis’ classroom work on occupational safety certification. On another, they use drills and saws to construct part of a building frame. But everything they do prepares them to be ready to work in Frederick’s construction and building trades.

As part of the eight-week training course, Maceikis’ Project GUIDE students use their skills to build beds for displaced children in the Sleep in Heavenly Peace program. “They’ll be gaining skills in how to follow plans to build something and give back to the community at the same time,” says Maceikis, a Walkersville High School wood design and applications teacher who also teaches Project GUIDE’s summer class at Frederick Community College’s Monroe Center.

“Not everyone’s going to college,” Maceikis adds. “I probably would have gone into a trade if I had this chance. I come from a blue-collar background, and I’ve always seen the value in that people need to have skills.”

The construction trades offer a variety of career paths, but students need to know that the opportunities are there. “We need to show individuals the different opportunities out there, not just as a job, but as something they can sustain a family with.”

The industry needs the jobs, too.

Construction and skilled trades are one of Frederick County’s top five industries, but builders are having difficulty attracting workers, Maceikis says. “There’s no one to fix our infrastructure,” he says. “If knowledge of skilled trades doesn’t get passed on, we’re going to be in a hard place.”

Inside this demand for skilled trades people are well-paying careers. According to Frederick County Workforce Services, there are over 900 employers in the industry in the county who will be hiring 868 employees in the next five years. The 10,166 people who work in construction and building trades earn an average salary of $72,632 annually.

Careers range from maintenance helpers to carpenters, industrial mechanics, plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, civil engineer technicians, surveyors and construction managers. A carpenter with a high school diploma and skills training earned a median salary of $21.90 an hour in 2018, according to Workforce Services.

There’s a need to increase training and educational opportunities in the trades, according to Danielle Adams, executive officer of the Frederick County Building Industry Association. Trade education was once a part of the curriculum in each high school, she says. As some of that responsibility shifted to Frederick County Public Schools’ Career and Technology Center (CTC), options to learn carpentry, plumbing, welding, masonry and electrical skills at local schools decreased.

“There are only so many seats,” Adams says. “The challenge is if they don’t have larger demand, they don’t add more seats. Take masonry. We’re hurting for masons, but you have to leave your high school to participate in a training program.”

The problem is that many young people don’t realize masonry, or other career paths in the building trades, are options that can lead to satisfying, well-paying careers. At the same time, students are often encouraged to go to college rather than consider careers in building trades, Adams says. This means fewer resources are diverted to education in the trades, she added.

“You have students who can’t get in because there are not enough seats,” she says. “One hundred and fifty to 160 students each year are turned away.” That’s because the CTC doesn’t have the resources to train all the students looking for this training, she adds.

Many employers turn to on-the-job training instead, she says, through apprenticeships and other training programs. FCC offers training in electrical work, HVAC, welding and computer-assisted design, but students who want to go into carpentry, masonry or another trade must rely on the CTC for on-the-job training.


To help fill the void, Project GUIDE aims to prepare selected students for building trade careers each summer. Last summer, seven students participated, and this year, 11 students are taking the training. Grants and donations help fund the program, which is operated through the nonprofit Empowered to Live.

Tiffany Green started the nonprofit Empowered to Live in Frederick in 2016 to provide positive youth development programs for young people ages 14 to 24 who need a boost in finding a productive career path to help them become self-sufficient. Project GUIDE grew out of that.

Zharia Triplette-Woods, a graduate of Tuscarora High School, is one of two students who returned to Project GUIDE this summer for additional training. “I like doing hands-on work,” she says. “I’ve started to get interested in plumbing, framing and painting. I want to do something in carpentry or painting.”

“She’s usually the first to finish her work and see who needs help,” Green says.

Green started Project GUIDE because a large number of young people live in households at or below the ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) threshold, which means they don’t earn enough money to offset the basic cost of living. In Frederick County, the ALICE threshold for a family of four is $79,600 a year.

Amir Stewart is training with Project GUIDE to give him credentials to become an electrician. The 2021 Frederick High School graduate previously worked as a technician for a company that makes machines to power pool covers. Through that job, he discovered he has a knack for electrical work. “I see this as an opportunity to turn over a new leaf,” he says. When he completes Project GUIDE, he hopes to find a job as an entry-level electrician.

“All of the things this program is offering are great things,” he says. “If I wasn’t interested in electrical work, they have plenty of other things I could do.”

Nasir Barnes is eyeing a career in either HVAC or welding. The Governor Thomas Johnson High School graduate is hoping to go into one of those fields to help him pay for college training, whether it’s to advance in the building trades or move into something related. “I want to do something interesting with my life,” he says.

Malik Martin is aiming for a career in welding. “I really like doing hands-on work,” he says. A Frederick High graduate, he realized he wanted to work with his hands while taking a woodworking class in high school. Once he tried welding, he realized he could apply his creative talents to working with metal, and he’s learned that welding offers him lots of options. “I’m just now getting into this kind of stuff,” he says.


Maceikis is proud of the clean, clutter-free classroom where Project GUIDE students learn the practical skills of the building trades. The classroom has desks and a lecture area, but it also has power tools, stacks of two-by-fours, frames, generator and other tools and materials used in building things. And everything is in its place. The floor is dust-free. “They [the building industry] need people who will clean up after themselves,” he says. Throughout their training, students learn to keep their work areas tidy.

“It doesn’t look like the demolition scenes on HGTV,” he says. “Being a responsible citizen is cleaning up after yourself. Tools and equipment are not cheap. You can’t leave tools around. You have to know where your things are at all times. That’s like a skill for life, and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re going into.”

The course also teaches students typical job skills like to be on time and to be prepared. Students also get paid for their training. Along with occupational safety certification, students will earn forklift operator accreditation. “This is a next step after high school,” Maceikis says. “It gives them the opportunity to earn great entry-level credentials and get in front of employers.”

Because students work with the same tools they’ll use on a job site, they’re becoming familiar with some of the work they’ll need to do as apprentices, journeymen or other entry-level workers. “There’s a concrete end result to what they do, whether it’s ‘I built the roof,’ or ‘I put the cabinets up.’ We’re not making plumbers. But they are learning professional skills.”

Knowing how to use basic tools and safety procedures will make them desirable candidates for jobs. “They don’t have to know how to frame a house, but they have a foundation,” Maceikis says. “They understand how to make their work environment safe.”


Brendan Madden, owner of All Around Plumbing in Frederick, has several job openings he’d like to fill. Certified plumbers earn a median hourly wage of $25.41 per hour, according to Frederick County Workforce Services.

“A lot of plumbers that are qualified are older, and there’s not a lot of those who are younger coming into the trade,” Madden says. Programs like Project GUIDE are starting to change that, but Madden would like to see more opportunities for young people to enter plumbing and other trades.

“As a business owner, it can be frustrating, because you’ve just got to figure out how to make it work,” he says. “Parents are starting to realize not every kid should go to college.”

The CTC does have grade and attendance requirements for students, which the local building industry would like to see relaxed, Adams says. Madden agreed. “My position is the kids that don’t have the grades they need [to get into the CTC] … don’t want to be lectured to,” he says. Many students learn better through hands-on training, especially those who want to go into the trades, Adams says. “We need to find a way to reach these students,” Madden says.

Madden, 53, says he’s hired four CTC graduates through Apprenticeship Maryland, but the pandemic put the brakes on that. He’s hoping to hire more after the coming school year. Plumbers who start as apprentices complete 7,500 hours of on-the-job training over four years. That prepares them to pass the state journey plumber test.

Some plumbers stay at the journey level, Madden says, while others graduate to the master level, where they can take on more responsibility or start their own plumbing business. Plumbers can work primarily in the residential, commercial or manufacturing sectors, or a combination. “The plumbing field is a lot wider than people recognize,” he says. There’s also a need for plumbers in the natural gas field.

Nick Wade, division manager of Ryan Homes in Frederick, and Jason Jenner, production manager for the homebuilder, often find they need to recruit students into their industry, whether it’s as a construction worker, site manager, project manager or other position.

“We don’t need people with construction knowledge,” Wade says. “We teach them how to build. We give them the recipe and the ingredients.” The homebuilding industry offers a variety of well-paying career paths. A carpenter can earn a median hourly pay of $21.90, while a construction manager can average $43.69 per hour, while other jobs pay rates in between those.

Foreman supervisors, production managers, construction superintendents, civil engineering technicians, inspectors, planners, safety managers, site managers and estimators, along with specialty workers like electricians, roofers, plumbers, and masons, are all needed.

Workers in the industry, especially supervisors, skew older, Jenner says, and that means new leaders are needed. Many college graduates are also needed for management positions, and the two often attend college career fairs to build interest in the trades industry. “You can make a solid living,” Jenner says. “The construction industry is very satisfying.” The workload is varying, and for those who don’t want to be stuck behind a desk, it offers a mixture of desk and field work.

For young people who want to live and work in Frederick, the building trades should be an option, he adds. Ryan is currently planning to build 500 new housing units in Frederick County, and the jobs, whether management or trade, are there to go along with it, he says.

Frederick Magazine