By Pat Hill
For high school students looking to launch their careers, an associate’s degree in applied science in highway maintenance management and zero student debt offers a hand up.
The career path is a step-by step process, program leaders say.
“I am trying to match high school students with agencies in the form of internships,” said Rob McArthur, a Woodland Park resident who helped develop the program.
Once selected as an intern, the successful high school applicant will begin working in the industry, perhaps for the Colorado Department of Transportation or a public works department, for instance.
On the job, the student receives industry-related training through the online Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program.
For Teller County residents without internet connection, it is possible to take the course on computers at libraries in Woodland Park or Florissant.
“All you have to do is commit the time,” McArthur said. He’s even helped a student take the training at the local library.
After completing the internship and technical training, the student is eligible to begin studying for the associate degree at Front Range Community College. The course includes general education such as mathematics and English, along with a management curriculum.
“If a person can get that degree, then they are in line to be a supervisor,” he said.
Front Range Community College is the first in the nation to offer academic credit for studying highway maintenance, a response to a critical need for skilled labor in road maintenance and public works.
“Our goal is to take kids who might be considered ‘unprivileged’ because their parents can’t pay for college into the program, where they can get their education free,” said McArthur who also helped develop the program curriculum approved by the Higher Learning Commission.
The former Green Mountain Falls Public Works director, McArthur hired on with Douglas County in 2014 to help assess the county’s public works needs. “From a recruitment perspective, the highway maintenance business has been upended coming out of the COVID pandemic as we experience the final stages of the Boomer exodus,” he said.
McArthur earned the associate degree and today is an adjunct instructor for the community college. He travels around the state to help prepare students for the degreed program.
“The idea is to have local technical assistance,” he said. “There is way more work than people to do it.”
McArthur presented the program at the national convention of the American Public Works Association in Pittsburgh last month.
“Our industry is in need of skilled laborers and operators, but many in the pool of perspective employees are lacking the most basic competencies,” he said. “We are dealing with an ordeal we have rarely faced in the last century and have little choice but to think outside the box.”
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