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November 3, 2016
Like most teenagers, Miguel Aguirre didn’t have much idea what he would do for a living after he finished school.
But a friend pulled the Wapato High School student along with him into the construction program at the Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center, a career center attended by students from Yakima-area school districts.
High school students in the one- to two-year construction program receive instruction on safety, using tools and equipment, and basic construction techniques.
Before long, Aguirre was hooked.
“I liked building things,” he said, and the program offered a chance to get his foot in the door of the construction industry.
Aguirre, now 25, has moved up the ladder quickly, working his way from laborer to superintendent at Concord Construction in Wapato.
And now he has set his sights on becoming a project manager, thanks to a new scholarship jointly sponsored by the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington and the University of Washington’s Construction Management department.
Aguirre is receiving $6,000 to cover the cost of tuition for UW’s construction management certificate program. He started his first class — on safety — in September.
“If it weren’t for the scholarship, I wouldn’t have done the project management program because of the time and funds,” he said.
Aguirre went to work at Concord Construction after graduating high school, and started as a laborer. The company soon offered him the chance to enroll in the carpentry apprenticeship program run by the Construction Industry Training Council (CITC).
“It was an opportunity to better yourself as a journeyman,” he said.
Aguirre advanced through the four-year program, taking online classes and logging 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. He earned his journeyman status in 2014.
CITC President Halene Sigmund said the construction management scholarship was introduced as a way to help CITC graduates take the next step on their career path.
The idea for the scholarship had been floating around for a while, she said, and the ball started rolling once she got in touch with UW Construction Management Chair Bill Bender.
UW and CITC are sharing the cost of the scholarship, with each contributing $3,000. It will be available annually to CITC graduates.
“The scholarship is intended to help recipients move into the superintendent ranks and beyond,” Bender said.
UW’s certificate program offers training in topics such as project planning, budgeting, scheduling, quality control, safety, contracts and staff development.
To complete the program, online students such as Aguirre take four classes over four quarters, including weekly live sessions where “we have to jump in and participate,” he said.
Students who apply for graduate non-matriculated status can use their class credits to fulfill prerequisites for the construction management master’s degree online program.
Aguirre said he’d like to pursue a degree in construction management, and hopes to stay on at Concord Construction while working as a project manager.
Working in management, Aguirre said, will offer more challenge.
“It will push me to learn more,” he said.
The company has been supportive of Aguirre as he has continued his education.
Aguirre said he learned of the scholarship when he received a pamphlet from CITC in the mail. His employer offered to provide letters of recommendation.
“When Miguel told us about applying for the scholarship, we were happy to support him in furthering his education,” said Karl Lieberknecht, a project manager at Concord.
“He has worked with us for six years, excelled in CITC’s apprenticeship program and is one of our top employees. He’s a person I can always count on.”
Aguirre said he would like to own his own business one day, perhaps building metal and precast panel structures like he does at Concord.
His advice for others who want to follow in his footsteps is “not to settle.”
“Learn as much as you can,” Aguirre said. “Learn other people’s jobs. Staying motivated is big.”
Jon Silver can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.