Trades building at Tulare College Center faces delays

COS’s new Trade Skills building faces delays due to a lack of skilled workers.(Kenny Goodman)

Building project at the College of the Sequoias Tulare campus gets drawn out due to a lack of skilled tradespeople

TULARE – The College of the Sequoias Tulare College Center broke ground this February on construction for a new trade skills building, but the project is ironically facing some delays due to a lack of skilled tradespeople.

“We are hoping to move in during August, but that is yet to be determined,” Randy Emery, a welding instructor and division chair, said. “It’s not looking too good. It’s looking okay for some of the programs.”

Emery explained that the contractors working on the project are struggling to get enough workers to complete tasks. The project originally had a completion date in July 2024, and an estimated cost of $31.5 million. It is funded through Measure J, a fund for the Tulare College Center that was passed by voters in 2008, along with some matching funds.

“Contractors are short-handed and over-worked and can’t completely man the job,” he said. “It’s kind of ironic, really. It’s kind of proving its point; we need it, but we can’t get it done in a big hurry because we don’t have the tradespeople to build it in a quick manner.”

In addition to delays due to workforce staffing issues, Emery said that supply chain issues have also led to work stoppages. There have also been minor changes to the plan as the building has been developed, which has slowed down progress.

The new building will provide 36,000 square feet of workspace and will allow COS to add additional classes. Emery thinks there may be additional night classes and some classes added to weekends to provide more opportunities for working people to get an education.

COS’s new Trade Skills building looking south. (Kenny Goodman)

The project consists of three buildings that are located next to the existing welding shop, and will have three steel-covered outside workspaces and a canopy area. The facility will also offer a two-acre outdoor space that is intended for outdoor tasks and will be available for use by industry partners.

The facility will encompass automotive repair, construction technology, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), maintenance mechanics, electrician training, industrial automation and agriculture technology. Emery described the goal as a type of “family” as all of the disciplines fit together.

Demand for skilled training from students is on the rise and Emery said that he is concerned the building will be packed full of students and equipment as soon as it is finished, leading the trades educators to require more room. As an example, he said that his most recent welding program filled up the first day it was offered.

“All of these programs are growing,” Emery said. “We are going to double the size of our HVAC program with a new instructor which has already been approved. All of the programs based on need are growing. We have a set number of faculty right now, but that could ramp up due to the demand for more courses.”

He added that the department has also approved the hiring of a dedicated maintenance person to maintain the equipment and the facility.

Emery said that one of his major goals for the new facility is an enhancement of the involvement with industry partners.

“As an educator who has been in the industry, our industry needs to be involved,” Emery said. “We need to create on-the-job training, apprenticeship and internship programs and have some employers who are true, long-term partners who want to help us, and in the process onboard students in a more productive way.

“They would have an influence on what we are doing as far as future training, and continuous improvement for their workers. That’s a key element of this whole movement. Getting employers engaged is a main focus of ours.”

Demand remains high for skilled workers across the country. In 2023, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the Visalia and Porterville region experienced some of the lowest levels of shortages in the country.

While that may be the case on paper, it doesn’t seem as relevant on the ground as a major project like the COS training center continues to experience difficulties in staffing. It is also an indication that students who are looking for a trade that will take them out of the Valley are likely to find good-paying jobs in other areas of the state or country.

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