Female general contractor encourages others to get into trades
The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recently opened the new Center for Trades and Energy Training at CSM’s new Regional Hughesville Campus. The CTET facility provides the courses, programs and equipment needed to begin or master a career in the construction and skilled trades — plumbing, carpentry, construction, HVAC, electrical and more.
“It’s all about putting people to work,” CSM President Brad Gottfried said in a news release. “It’s about giving them the skills they need to succeed … It’s about helping students achieve their goals.”
Opening the new CTET in the centrally located Regional Hughesville Campus makes trades training more easily accessible to students in Southern Maryland — like Barbara Scotland of Hughesville, a one-time technical writer, English professor and department chair, who left it all and retrained herself through CSM to become a housing contractor.
Recently, Scotland spoke about the evolution of her career and CSM’s role in it, as she worked at one of her housing projects.
Scotland adjusted her protective eye-gear and knelt down next to a broken toilet flange in the bathroom of one of her rental houses in Chesapeake Ranch Estates in Lusby. She turned on her oscillating multi-tool, and as the shrill grinding sound filled the house, Scotland worked methodically to remove, section by section, the broken toilet flange.
“It’s very empowering” Scotland said later, of this ability to make her own house repairs.
Those kinds of skills are particularly valuable to Scotland, a CSM trades student, who is also a licensed home improvement general contractor. Through her single-family home rental business, she aims to provide high-quality, affordable housing, with a particular interest in renting to women and children.
Scotland owns 11 houses in Calvert County, eight of which are rented and three that she is repairing or rebuilding. She gets a great deal of satisfaction from repairing, maintaining and upgrading her homes, she said, and she saves money by doing much of her own plumbing, minor drywall repair, painting and small carpentry projects. What she can’t do or doesn’t want to do herself, she has the knowledge to intelligently contract out to electricians, carpenters, heating and air conditioning professionals and others.
It is a career that works for Scotland. “It’s the satisfaction of getting something done and seeing it finished,” she said.
Scotland has learned her trade through a combination of reading books and online information, watching other professionals and asking questions. However, Scotland credits trades courses that she’s taken at CSM for much of her skill set. “I’ve taken five classes,” she said. Taking plumbing courses at CSM and discovering how much she particularly enjoyed that work was eye-opening to the 53-yearold woman who started out in college as an English literature and creative writing major who loved Faulkner and Dickens and then evolved into a technical writer, then a CSM professor and then a department chair and now, finally, to a home improvement general contractor and purveyor of affordable housing.
She said, though, that there is a clear connection between her earlier liberal arts education and the hands-on technical and construction work she does now. “It’s all about analytical thinking and problem-solving, which is what a liberal arts major is taught to do.”
Scotland could not help but note that she was the only woman in all of her trades classes at CSM so far. She thinks that women don’t even consider work in construction trades as an option. “Women do really well in the trades. They have the fine motor coordination,” Scotland said. And, with the need to do work in tight areas for some jobs, she noted that sometimes being a smaller size helps with installation and repair work.
There is another reason Scotland encourages women to consider work in the trades. Job opportunities are growing rapidly in electrical, construction, plumbing and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and commercial refrigeration (HVAC) work. Employment in each of these trade areas is expected to grow by between 20 and 25 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Job growth in the skilled trades has remained strong for many years despite economic ups and downs and it is expected to remain strong looking ahead.” said Dr. Dan Mosser, CSM vice president of continuing education and workforce development. “You cannot off-shore the work of a skilled trades person.”
Scotland said the CSM trades program trained her well. “It’s excellent … I am excited and proud to be able to attend the new CTET.
“Too often I hear people say the trades is an alternative to those students who cannot succeed at college. They believe that if a student is not successful in his or her college courses, he or she can go into the trades, as if somehow the trades are less challenging academically than college courses,” Scotland said. “This viewpoint could not be further from the truth. Being a current student and a member of the construction industry and having previously earned an associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree, I can attest to the rigors of the coursework provided by CSM’s [trades program]. My own coursework in the plumbing trade has been as challenging and rewarding as any college credit class I have taken to earn my college degrees.”
The 30,000-square-foot new Center for Trades and Energy Training (CTET) is the first building to open on CSM’s new Regional Hughesville Campus. The new building houses CSM’s trades department, which before spring break was located at a much smaller, leased property in Waldorf. The new CTET also houses the Maryland Center for Environmental Training, a program that provides training for wastewater treatment professionals throughout Maryland. MCET moves to the Regional Hughesville Campus from the La Plata Campus grounds.
The idea behind the centrally located regional campus is to give residents in the entire tri-county area and beyond easy access to these specialized highcost programs that provide critical workforce training opportunities. Additional programs and five additional buildings will be added to the 74-acre Regional Hughesville Campus over the next 15 to 20 years, according to current plans.
Mosser noted that the new campus is a valuable regional resource. “Having the new Center for Trades and Energy Training centrally-located on CSM’s new regional campus in Hughesville and sharing the costs among the three Southern Maryland counties is a significant competitive advantage for these counties,” he said. “Plus it makes it more convenient for residents throughout Southern Maryland to access and leverage this state-of-the-art career training facility. And it helps CSM fulfill its pivotal role in regional economic growth through the professional development of this region’s skilled construction and energy workforce.”
Barbara Scotland of Hughesville, a licensed home improvement general contractor and CSM student, removes a broken toilet flange in one of her rental properties in Calvert County.
Barbara Scotland of Hughesville, a licensed home improvement general contractor and CSM student, selects tools from her van for her next task.