To be in the room at Houston Community College’s Southeast campus Wednesday evening, one might have thought it was a gathering for MAREK workers. There were dozens of people wearing yellow vests emblazoned with the company logo.
But they weren’t MAREK employees. Instead, they provided a preview of the future workforce for the Oak Forest-based construction company.
A commitment ceremony took place Wednesday for 25 students enrolled in a new dual-credit, two-year construction certification program at HCC, which is partnering with MAREK and Houston ISD to provide workforce opportunities for Houston-area high school students.
“We need people, and this was the best way to get it going,” MAREK CEO Stan Marek said. “It’s so hard to get kids out of high school, because when they graduate they’ve got a lot of options. A lot of them just have to go to work, and they haven’t gotten the chance to explore what’s really out there. This gives them the opportunity to learn more about us and eliminate some of their fears.”
Students in HISD’s new Career & Technical Education (CTE) construction program spend a portion of their school day at HCC’s Southeast Campus, where they learn general construction skills such as drywall, sheetrock and ceiling construction from a former MAREK field supervisor who is a certified drywall craft instructor.
Michael Love, HISD’s assistant superintendent of career readiness, said the students in the first wave of the program, which is offered free of charge to high school juniors, enrolled in the spring and began dual-credit courses in August. In partnering with MAREK, he said HISD has a powerhouse in the construction industry that enhances the opportunities the district can provide when it comes to hands-on training.
Courses are geared toward construction technology, with a focus on drywall and a goal that by the end of their senior year, students will graduate with a Level I certificate through HCC. The students will then work as paid interns at MAREK during the summer of 2020.
Along with the certificaton from HCC, students also will have drywall credentials and standing job offers from MAREK when they graduate in 2021.
“It not only provides direct workforce experience, but also practical experience that they’ll need to have when they enter the workforce,” Love said. “Not only will they be learning, but they’ll be earning additional income, which will provide them the scope of what’s to come in the industry. … I think this will make them more marketable employees whenever they enter the workforce.”
MAREK hopes to provide students with workforce skills they can use no matter their eventual trade. Though the program entails a focus on drywall, there is substantial cross-training provided as well.
Marek compared construction work to riding a bicycle, saying those who learn the skills will never lose them.
“It’s not easy in construction, especially in our trade. We do everything you see here, and everything has to be perfect and needs to be by good quality craftsman,” Marek said. “That doesn’t happen overnight, but once these kids learn a trade they’ve got it with them forever. They can go anywhere in the world and work with that training. You learn how to work with good discipline, being responsible and to always be a learner.”
Marek said the program’s purpose aligns with the company’s values, which stems from his father’s philosophy that was passed down to him – the sentiment that a company exists for its employees. He said MAREK strives to operate that way.
“These kids don’t want a job. They want a career,” Marek said. “The construction industry has not typically offered that and we don’t approach it the right way. We’re not just hiring you. We’re hiring your family. You’re going to have a wife and kids, and you’re going to spend more time with us than them. We want you to feel like you’re a part of our family.”
In the future, MAREK hopes to expand the program through its industry partners.
Jorge Rodriguez, the company’s managing director, encouraged the students and parents in attendance Wednesday to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them now.
“I don’t think there could be a better opportunity for students in high school,” said Mike Webster, HCC’s associate vice chancellor for workforce instruction.