Neal Communities, Southwest Florida’s largest private homebuilder, donated $50,000 toward Riverview High School’s new Construction Academy, designed to prepare high school students for a career in the building industry.
Riverview High School’s new construction technology program will be the first of its kind in Sarasota County. The program will incorporate a curriculum from the National Center of Construction Education and Research along with providing hands-on experiences for students.
Currently, 60 students are enrolled in the program, which also has a waiting list. Those that complete the curriculum are eligible to earn industry-recognized credentials and have access to local internships, apprenticeships and jobs.
Charlene Neal, president of Charlene Neal PureStyle, a partner company of Neal Communities, organized the $50,000 donation on behalf of Neal Communities because of her desire to support a program that would have lasting positive effects on the students at Riverview High School, her alma mater.
“We are very happy to support Riverview High School’s new Construction Academy, which was designed to provide long-term career solutions and opportunities to its students,” Neal said. “Our hope is that students acquire both the skills and enthusiasm for success in the building industry.”
In addition to its financial contribution, Neal Communities intends to provide staff resources to assist with the program, from guest speakers and field trip opportunities to internships and apprenticeships. The program also creates a pipeline of potential employees who already call Sarasota County home.
Neal Communities joins a variety of local supporters through the Gulf Coast Building Exchange that are working to make the new construction lab at Riverview High School possible. The donations garnered to date have helped renovate an art lab into a functioning shop for students. The community celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 9.
“We are grateful for the community support,” said Riverview Principal Erin del Castillo. “I’m also grateful for the support of parents and the students, themselves. Everyone is truly excited about the opportunities that this new academy will bring to our students.”
The new program is designed similarly to a Manufacturing Academy at South Fort Myers High School, which launched about five years ago. The school’s Manufacturing Academy is allowing students to take elective credits in specific areas of focus, like electrical, painting, plumbing and masonry. del Castillo said she toured the South Fort Myers High School campus and was impressed with the enthusiasm and excitement she heard from students enrolled in the classes. “The passion they had for the career path they were on was evident,” she said. “As an educator, you want that for every student.”
The program launches at a time when the nation faces a shortage of construction workers. According to an Associated Builders and Contractors’ independent study, the construction industry will need to attract an estimated 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal hiring pace in the coming year to meet the demand for labor. The report also indicated the industry’s average age of retirement is 61, and more than 1 in 5 workers are currently older than 55.
“In today’s world, students have many opportunities to be successful. The Construction Academy allows students to either continue their construction studies at the university level or have an immediate local pathway to start a fulfilling career,” del Castillo said.