Joe Deutsch has known he wanted to be an industrial tech teacher since he was in eighth grade.
Deutsch, who teaches at Belle Plaine Junior High and High School, always liked working with his hands and interacting with people, so the job seemed like a perfect fit.
This year, Deutsch is not only using those skills, he’s teaching them to a dozen young men enrolled in his light construction class as they build a 12-by-24-foot cabin from the ground up.
The cabin will eventually be taken to northeast Minnesota and rented out at a campground on the Gunflint Trail, where Deutsch works in the summers.
This is the first time the yearlong class has been offered and the first time Deutsch has built a cabin with students, though another class used to build a garden shed, he said.
“It’s a pretty cool project,” he said.
The class teaches students skills needed to work in the homebuilding industry, like how to pour concrete, install a standing-seam steel roof, put in windows and hand-frame rafters. But it also teaches more intangible things, he said.
“I think the big one is the ability to work hard and the work ethic,” he said. “But I think it’s equally important for students to find their passion — is this something you’d like to do for a living?”
Students work on various tasks in pairs. “Because it’s a group project, I think there’s a little bit more teamwork and camaraderie, just like you would probably find at a construction site,” he said.
He hopes to finish by April, but with only a half-hour each day to work, the class is a bit behind, he said.
When complete, the cabin will be worth $6,000 to $8,000, and students will have invested about 120 class periods, he said.
“I didn’t think it took this much work,” said Brandon Legg, a sophomore in the class.
Dave Siwek, owner of a Jordan lumber company, is providing all of the necessary materials. He will also drop the cabin off near Grand Marais when it’s done.
An added benefit of offering a construction class now is that there’s a real demand for “more good people in the [building] industry,” Deutsch said.
During the recession, when homebuilding screeched to a halt, many workers went into other professions, and some moved away. Now, as building picks up, there are jobs to be had in Minnesota. “I’ve been preaching that to the kids,” he said.
This semester, Burnsville High School also added a class covering construction basics because of the demand for skilled workers.
Many students have relative who works construction, and some even have part-time or summer jobs in the industry.
Like many industrial tech classes, it “appeals to someone that knows they’re going to be going into manual labor,” he said, adding that “not everyone’s going to go to a four-year institution.”
Even so, many hands-on jobs now require postsecondary education in the form of a degree or certificate from a technical college. That’s why throughout the year, he brings in representatives from technical programs and workers in various technical fields to talk about career options.
Junior Jacob LaTour, who has a godfather in construction, has always enjoyed being outside and “doing hands-on stuff,” he said. He’s interested in being an auto mechanic or working in construction.
Josh Mosbeck, a senior, enjoys the class because “it’s just fun to learn how to build stuff, and it will be useful in the future,” he said.
Learning through mistakes
To teach the class, Deutsch had to brush up on a few skills himself, so he read books, watched YouTube tutorials and asked friends for pointers, he said. “So I’ve been learning a lot as we go, and I’ve never been afraid of that,” he said.
Of course, students are also learning and making mistakes as well, he said. Measurement in particular is challenging, he said, and the class had to redo one side of the rafters because they weren’t done correctly.
“If we do something wrong, Mr. Deutsch has us do it again the right way,” Mosbeck said. “That’s OK, because making mistakes is probably the best way to learn.”
Deutsch admits he’s a perfectionist, but when a mistake is made, “we just grab another two-by-four.”
After the cabin is complete, the class will start on another project: building a multi-stall bathroom and ticket booth structure near the school’s football field, Deutsch said.
Deutsch hopes the class will spark some students’ interest and help them consider their next career step. “That’s what’s kind of cool about this class,” he said. “They can try it out and say, ‘Hey, I really like this construction thing.’ ”