“I have built my program around educating parents and students about the fact that skilled trades careers are not “alternative” careers. I have helped them see that the skilled trades might be exactly what they are built to do, making it their best possible choice.”

James Simmons teaches construction at North Scott High School in Eldridge, Iowa. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in business, he spent most of his 20-year career in the construction industry as a business owner. Simmons was recruited to teaching in 2013, when he started transforming North School High School’s construction program to include the full range of the building trades, including carpentry, electrical, plumbing, welding and manufacturing. Since then, he has served as a teacher leader in his department, and a building trades leader in the local Regional Planning Partnership, where industrial tech teachers work to make high-quality trades courses available to every student in the region. He also chairs the North Scott Building Trades Advisory Board, which includes owners and operators from the region’s largest construction companies. The board meets monthly to collaborate on aligning public education curriculum, facilities, pathways, internships and apprenticeships to industry standards.

Simmons is passionate about helping students see skilled trades opportunities clearly and changing stigmatized perceptions. He often brings in professionals from local industry to speak to the class about their experience and work alongside students in specialized projects. His projects cover a variety of techniques, such as materials processing, mass production of adirondack benches, concrete pouring and finishing, shed construction, and electrical and plumbing modules. The program’s crowning achievement each year is the Student-Built Home Capstone. Established in 2014, the project involves 24 students, who build a 1700- square foot house, putting their many skills to use and benefiting the local community.

Paid skilled trades internships are also available starting the summer after junior year and continuing part-time through senior year. Simmons and his team created a Skilled Trades Educational Pathway where students train in residential electrical during 11th grade, enter a paid internship that summer, then take the IBEW/NECA Interim Credential course their senior year, while working part time. This is a first-year electrical union’s training program. Upon graduation, these students are prepared to launch multiple careers in the electrical industry. Pathways from his program often align with community college certifications and diplomas.

As students showcase their knowledge and skills in industry settings, companies get a real sense of their mastery and potential. Simmons often hears back from students who have gone on to become general contractors, electricians, HVAC installers, and more that his program taught them teamwork and communication, versatile skills that opened up endless career opportunities, and that hard work pays off.

“Students are impacted by the competitive advantage they receive as they develop skills in high school that are typically not learned until after graduation. This creates many opportunities as their resumes are quite impressive before they end their high school career.”