Large construction cranes are rotating over future apartment buildings downtown and the whine of industrial power saws can be heard throughout the region. This construction boom serves as a tangible sign of Colorado Springs’ economic engine moving into high gear.

But if that engine is going to continue to run to its full potential, it needs more fuel — in the form of skilled professionals.

That’s why Pikes Peak Community College has added a new Associate of Applied Science degree and two certificates in building and construction technology, with classes in carpentry, framing, roofing, drywall, finishing and more. The new construction curriculum is based on national standards as established through the Home Builders Institute and accepted by both the Home Builders Association and the Association of General Contractors.

The addition of a construction program expands Pikes Peak’s already robust offerings of middle-skill educational opportunities. Our advanced manufacturing program has been feeding our local economy with skilled workers in computer-aided drafting, 3D-printing, welding, machining and robotics. These middle-skill careers are in demand as never before, and the construction program will turn out the most sought-after workers in the region.

I recently gave a presentation about our new construction program to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Association of Regional Contrac-tors. The reaction was intense. People from the construction industry mobbed me afterward, wanting to know how quickly we’re ramping up, how many students we’re going to be graduating, and, perhaps most important, asking what they could do to help.

We couldn’t do this program without the generous support of the construction industry. In fact, the GE Johnson Construction Community Foundation kicked off our program-building efforts with an amazing $100,000 challenge grant to provide scholarships to construction program students. PPCC has committed $50,000 to match and we’re still seeking another $50,000 from the community.

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Jim Johnson, CEO of GE Johnson, recognizes that investing in Pikes Peak’s construction program fuels our community’s current and future growth and that, without it, this region couldn’t keep up with demand.

Construction starts in the United States are expected to increase 6.5 percent, totaling more than $560 billion in the coming year, according to Construction Market Data’s latest quarterly forecast report.

Colorado Springs area homebuilding is at a 10-year high with a 9 percent increase in the number of available construction jobs from 2015 to 2016.

According to AGC, two-thirds of construction firms nationwide report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce. Lack of workers can hold up jobs and drive up costs.

That’s why AGC recommends the expansion of secondary-school career and technical education and postsecondary training opportunities.

High schools have responded with new construction programs of their own, including Harrison High School, Career Readiness Academy, Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Campus, Mitchell High School, Patriot Learning Center and Power Technical Early College. Pikes Peak Community College has bolstered those efforts, partnering with Atlas Preparatory School with side-by-side Careers in Construction and offering for-credit Career Start construction classes.

These unique collaborations team Pikes Peak with school districts and residential and commercial construction companies to really expand the pipeline.

We know that some of these students will come out and go to work for GE Johnson, Nunn, Colarelli and the other fine companies that are building new hospitals, schools, office buildings, retail spaces and homes in the Pikes Peak region.

But others may take a different tack.

A collaboration among Colorado College, Pikes Peak, UCCS and the U.S. Air Force Academy is training students to become entrepreneurs. The Quad, which recently opened a permanent space in the basement of Loyal Coffee at 408 S. Nevada Ave., is helping students make the turn from seeking work to creating their own businesses and nonprofits.

For our construction students, that could mean taking the idea of building their future and making it literal. I’m sure the results will be extraordinary, taking our students and our community to places we can’t even imagine.

If you’re interested in taking classes, hiring our student interns or donating to the program, email sharon.hogg@ppcc.edu.

Lance Bolton, president of PPCC, can be reached at lance.bolton@ppcc.edu.

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