Tell us a little about BuildNV and its initiative.
Humboldt County is experiencing an expansion of local businesses and the proposed development of several new large projects. Consequently, a committee was formed to analyze the County’s workforce and housing capacity. The committee quickly learned the community needs to do more to prepare for an expansion of the economy. A workforce development team was established in the spring of 2019 that included the construction industry, community officials, Great Basin College (GBC), and private business leaders. Aaron West, President of the Nevada Builders Alliance, was part of that group, and his organization provided funding for scholarships to allow for more community enrollment in the BuildNV program. BuildNV is an 80-hour program designed to provide training for workers in construction, building maintenance, related trades in our communities, and career technical education, helping to address some much-needed workforce challenges in the county. The program adheres to the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)’s certified workforce training curriculum and aims to develop the local pool of skilled labor.
The workforce development team’s efforts led to the establishment of a fundraising group consisting of Lisa Campbell, Director of the GBC Winnemucca Campus; Heidi Lusby-Angvick, Director of the Pershing County Economic Development Authority; Maria Anderson, Community Relations Manager for Lithium Nevada Corp.; Arlene Gonzales, Area Manager for Join Inc.; and Jan Morrison, Economic Development Officer for Humboldt County. They began a fundraising initiative —in addition to the scholarship funds provided by the Nevada Builders Alliance— to launch the BuildNV program as a curriculum offering starting in the spring of 2020. A key milestone was achieved when GBC agreed to deliver the classes as part of its standard course offerings. Another milestone occurred when the Rural Nevada Regional STEM Networks grant was approved in May 2020. The grant provided funding for a Master-Training Program for instructors in several communities who will teach the courses offered by GBC, along with funding for basic teaching materials.
What impact has BuildNV had on the local community?
We believe BuildNV has had a positive impact by providing training for individuals in several rural communities. The course schedule is flexible and has been tailored to the specific needs of the rural communities it serves. It has reached a population of students who would otherwise be unable to travel hours from their homes to attend work-skills training. In turn, they have been able to use these skills to benefit their own communities.
Maria: The McDermitt area, which includes the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Indian Reservation is located more than 70 miles from the city of Winnemucca. Due to the remote location, employment and educational opportunities are minimal. To ensure a successful BuildNV program, training was held in Fort McDermitt and made available to residents in the surrounding area.
Community members from Fort McDermitt, McDermitt and Orovada who successfully completed the program are now eager to use their newly acquired skills. This includes at projects such as the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine and processing facility that Lithium Nevada is developing. Lithium Nevada is a founding supporter of the BuildNV program and has provided a number of scholarships to participants to ensure that trained local talent is available in advance of construction, which we expect will reduce the need to recruit skilled labor from outside of our neighboring communities. Lithium Nevada and its contractors will be in need of skilled workers for construction and operation of the project. Our goal is to provide jobs at Thacker Pass for as many local residents as possible.
In addition, the program provided an opportunity for a Fort McDermitt tribal member to become a NCCER certified craft instructor. Having a community member as an instructor has proven to be valuable and a key component in the overall success of the BuildNV program.
Students proudly display GBC course completion certificates; they will also receive NCCER certification cards.
Heidi: Lovelock is similar to most rural communities, where the travel distance to services can be a challenge for our residents. A simple trip to the doctor, shopping and educational opportunities requires planning, reliable transportation, and financial wherewithal. During the initial push to enroll students, we found that traveling to Winnemucca to sign up for the course was nearly impossible for all of the students. Adjustments were made to the enrollment process so that it could be completed online or over the phone. Accessibility to the BuildNV program was imperative for those that truly needed and wanted the opportunity.
The Lovelock Paiute Tribe sent several tribal members to participate. When they finished the program, they were tasked with remodeling homes in their community for their elders. A few other students obtained employment – something that had been elusive to them prior to the BuildNV program. On the last day of class, students spoke of their experience with the program and were very positive. One young man stated that he was already newly hired to work in a construction field, and that the class made him feel confident that he could succeed. Another gentleman had numerous years in the construction industry but found that the math was a great refresher for him.
The pride and excitement of the students has not worn off over the past few months. Already, our community is clamoring for the next class to be scheduled. A major supporter of the BuildNV program is the Lovelock Paiute Tribe. They are committed to sending several more members for the next session. By utilizing a localized and specialized program such as the BuildNV program in each of our unique communities, we are growing our capacity to put our community members into meaningful jobs that will be coming to our region.
How is STEM important to BuildNV? How do you get the participants of the program to see that importance?
BuildNV lesson plans focus almost exclusively on science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. In particular, students are taught the importance of math and critical thinking in the application of building skills. As simple as a measuring tape may seem, a strong sense of math is needed in order to correctly carry out this task on a work site. Technology is present at every worksite, and these basic skills lead to career paths such as engineering, building trades, mechanical systems, architecture, and design processes.
What challenges has COVID posed for BuildNV and how were those challenges overcome?
We had several classes cancellations in the early days of the program due to community outbreaks of COVID-19. The program also scrambled to find additional class sites to comply with social distancing requirements. We regrettably lost some students who were unable to continue attending classes during the pandemic. On the positive side, we were able to adapt the program to include virtual learning opportunities. Going partially virtual presented additional challenges of ensuring students had the necessary computers and internet services to access online learning. Many of the program sponsors, like Lithium Nevada, purchased and donated computers for use by BuildNV participants. Eventually, all classes were able to be rescheduled and completed due to the tenacity of the organizers and the enthusiasm of the students.
What do you hope to see for BuildNV in the future?
Because this is such a flexible program with more than 70 possible modules, it is highly accommodating in rural Nevada where prospective students are geographically spread out. BuildNV can still do more to expand course offerings to the remotest communities so that distance is not an obstacle to workforce training. Accommodating all interested Nevadans, despite where they live, is particularly important as many good job opportunities in sectors such as mining, road maintenance, farming, ranching and tourism exist in remote areas. With GBC as the course provider, we could continue to expand the program to other parts of the state where workforce training is needed and otherwise unavailable. This would help address workforce development in the remotest communities of our state.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of BuildNV thus far?
Just refer to Heidi and Maria’s comments! Beyond that, the willingness of others to partner with us in building a rural Nevada workforce has been wonderful!
For more information about the BuildNV program, visit their site: BuildNV.org.