Homebuilder creates academy to help fill construction jobs

DENVER - Right now, homebuilders around the country are desperately looking for workers to help them complete projects. There are nearly 200,000 construction jobs available right now across the nation, up 81 percent in just two years.

One homebuilder is taking matters into its own hands.

Lesley Millhouser has learned important building skills despite not having a background in the field.

"I am currently a stay-at-home mom," Millhouser says. "My background is actually as a paralegal in biopharmaceuticals."

Millhouser's love for building began when her daughter wanted a dollhouse.

"When you put together a dollhouse, suddenly I needed an addition to my dollhouse because there was no place for the kitchen and the bathroom," Millhouser says. "And then I started building stuff and I was always frustrated because I didn't have the saw or the materials I needed. Actually the wisdom to do it."

Now, she's one of nearly two dozen students hoping to turn interest into employment at the Colorado Homebuilding Academy, created by Oakwood Homes. And it's about more than making sure students are getting jobs, but keeping an industry alive.

Michael Smith, the academy's director, said there's a labor shortage nationwide.

"It's getting bad and it's not getting any better," Smith says.

 The housing crisis changed the perception of construction work, Smith said.

"We've had almost two generations where we chase people away from our industry," Smith added. "We said work smarter, not harder and the unintended consequence being don't work with your hands, only become a doctor, or a lawyer or a software programmer."

The academy is the industry's response to a shortage of homebuilders. Students who are ready to work in construction come to the academy for two nights a week for eight weeks and learn all the skills they need to start the job, for free. When they're done, they get help finding a job too.

"These guys set me up with a career and that's all I could ask for," says academy graduate Landon Harms.

The academy's founders hope the idea spreads, and the industry regains the workers it needs to thrive.

Millhouser hopes to find a great job after graduation and eventually move into management. Taking her love for building far beyond dollhouses.     

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