Contractors association deems scholarship program an investment in work force

Phil Castle
Business Times

WCCA scholarship winners
The latest recipients of scholarships from the Western Colorado Contractors Association are, from left: Jorge Ochoa, Christopher Burg, Brandon Hildebrand and Josh Spero. The association awards $5,000 in scholarships each year to students enrolled in construction trade programs at Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction. (Photo courtesy WCCA)

Regardless of the economic cycle and whether business is booming or slow, Chris Sorensen says construction contractors remain on constant lookout for quality employees. And Sorensen should know: He manages the structural division at Mays Concrete in Grand Junction.

To that end, a group of contractors awards scholarships to students studying construction trades. “It’s a great investment on our part,” said Sorensen, chairman of the scholarship committee of the Western Colorado Contractors Association.

Based in Grand Junction, the WCCA represents a total of nearly 600 general and trade contractors, suppliers and professional associates, most from the region.  The WCCA offers training and networking opportunities as well as operates a plan room.

The WCCA awards a total of $5,000 in scholarships each year to students enrolled in construction trade programs at Western Colorado Community College, a branch of Mesa State College in Grand Junction. The group announced the latest recipients: Christopher Burg,

Brandon Hildebrand, Jorge Ochoa and Josh Spero. The four each will receive $625 for at least two semesters.

While the scholarships don’t cover the full cost of the instruction, it helps defray those costs, Sorensen said. For some students, the scholarships make it possible to attend WCCC. “This is a way to put people through the program and give them some assistance.”

To qualify for the scholarships, students must be enrolled in the construction technology, manufacturing technology or transportation services technology programs at WCCC and take at least six credit hours of courses a semester. They also must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average on a four-point scale. WCCC selects the scholarship recipients.

“WCCC has been real receptive and very easy to work with,” Sorensen said.

WCCC offers nine-month certificate and two-year associate degree programs in construction trades and construction technology. Credit earned in those programs also may be applied to a four-year degree in construction technology from Mesa State. Students interested in the management side of construction could go on to earn a master’s of business administration degree at Mesa State.

When WCCC launched the scholarship program in 2008, a tight labor market made it “miserable” for contractors to hire and retain employees, Sorensen said. The situation changed dramatically in the aftermath of a recession. But even with an ample labor pool from which to draw, contractors continue to look for quality employees, he said.

The scholarship program should help in training students to become those quality new hires, he added. “That would certainly be the goal.”