Don Magruder
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Four years ago, when the Lake County School System and Villages Charter High School were making plans for building academies, students who wanted to take non-college construction programs had no place to go.

After a decade of malaise in the construction industry due to the 2008 economic collapse, a bend in construction growth collided with an industry where the basic workforce had shrunk dramatically due to age and economic conditions. Simply put, there weren’t enough people to meet the demand for construction.

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It was also during this period that educators and political leaders began to really debate the value of a college education and whether it would leave the student with unimaginable debt for a career in middle school. It wasn’t hard to find out that well-paying construction jobs were abundant, and if properly trained in high school or technical school, students could find amazing job opportunities.

The number of students who initially enrolled in the academies was small and everything had to be set up and organized. Even so, strong public-private advisory bodies began to lead the way, and along with a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, students began working on real projects and learning real skills.

Building houses and preparing students for great careers was no longer a dream, it happened. Each academy saw excitement and growth, along with summer jobs through the Academy of Construction Technologies program. Even with a little help from the video promotion of the projects, the programs at all locations got off to a good start.

Based on early student enrollments, the Leesburg Construction Academy will have nearly 200 students, the South Lake Academy will have over 100 students, the Eustis Construction Academy and Umatilla HVAC Academy will have well over 60 students, and the Villages Charter High School Construction Academy is exhausted with around 50 students.

In addition, Wildwood High School’s HVAC Academy starts this year. In the next year, Lake and Sumter Counties could potentially train nearly 500 students to get into the construction industry. Given the huge number of jobs available, this is just a start.

These building academies need your help. If you are a leader in the construction industry in any of the areas the academies are in, would you consider donating an hour each month to the advisory board to lead the curriculum, habitat projects, and student education? Donating time is easy and very rewarding.

Every academy desperately needs mentors and guest speakers who can demonstrate firsthand the various skills in the classroom. You don’t need a college education to be a mentor or speaker – all you need is a willingness to share your building knowledge.

We also need suppliers and subcontractors working on the Habitat for Humanity construction projects in The Villages, Leesburg, Eustis and South Lake willing to donate time and energy to train these students. If you are selected by Habitat as an approved provider, you will be compensated for your work. In addition, it is always welcome if you would like to donate services or materials for the projects.

For the students and the construction industry, these local building schools make a difference, and so can you. If you would like to attend any of the building academies, please email Don.Magruder@RoMacFl.com or Danielle Stroud of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter at danielle@habitatls.org.

We don’t just build houses; We build life.

Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc. and the host of the Around the House show, which can be seen on AroundtheHouse.TV.