Construction Education Foundation Expands Program with Opus Foundation Grant

Denver-based Construction Education Foundation (CEF) is expanding its Careers in Construction program with the help of a $60,000 grant from the Opus Foundation. CEF's mission of recruiting, developing and serving young students in the construction industry has a strong fit with youth development, one of the Foundation's focus areas.

CEF is a nonprofit organization of the Associated General Contractors of America, a significant trade organization with 89 U.S. chapters representing approximately 17,000 contractors.

Careers in Construction (CIC) is a pre-apprenticeship program that offers high school students opportunities to earn Department of Labor recognized Pre-Apprenticeship Certified Training (PACT) certificates, certifying them as work-ready in a particular trade. It is currently offered at 62 high schools across Colorado, 19 of which are overseen and funded by CEF.

The grant will enable CEF to expand the program to four additional Denver area public high schools, increasing its impact from 19 to 23 schools. The funds will support programming, including curriculum, supplies, instructor stipends and professional support.

Bringing Skilled Vocational Education back to High Schools

CIC was created in 2015 to address the construction workforce shortage and reduce high school dropout rates. To date, it has enrolled and exposed more than 12,000 high school students to careers in construction.

With CIC, high school students can enroll in construction courses as electives. After completing four core training classes (Introduction to the Building Trades, Construction Math, Tool Identification and Construction Materials and Employability Skills), students can choose from ten trade-specific focuses, such as green building, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and more. After they receive their PACT certificate, CEF hosts a hiring fair where students are connected to internship, apprenticeship and employment opportunities.

Instructors of the program are current teachers within the school. CEF supports them with the curriculum and a stipend to run the program. CEF also provides a navigator, a person experienced in construction who assists teachers with the curriculum and works directly with students on their career pathways.

In the next two years, CEF hopes to expand the CIC program to 80 schools, which would help to meet demand since 18 high schools are currently on a waiting list.

A Changing Narrative

“The narrative toward construction education has really changed for the better in recent years," said Bryan Cook, Executive Director of CEF. “Just six years ago, high schools weren't nearly as receptive when we'd propose the training. College was their goal for every student. But then came the pandemic. Demand for construction rose – along with the cost of college, putting it out of reach for many students. Now schools are racing to bring technical education back and we have a waiting list."

Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are retiring and leaving the construction industry.

“There's a mass exodus happening, and it's really putting a strain on the industry," Bryan said. “We just don't have enough skilled tradespeople." 

For that reason, programs like CIC are vital. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the state of Colorado has approximately 180,000 construction workers. To meet demand, that number needs to increase to 225,000 by 2027. So, within four years, the state needs an additional 45,000 construction workers. That's a tall order. 

“This is why support from Opus and other industry leaders is so important," said Bryan. “Meanwhile, our phones are ringing – the schools are calling us and want the program now."

Opportunity Abounds

CIC is currently offered at about 10% of Colorado's high schools, so there's a huge opportunity to expand the program within the state.

“Really, the potential for growth here is almost unlimited," said Bryan. “Funding and support from partners like Opus are critical. For quite some time now, Opus has been leaning into the issue of construction workforce shortages providing both financial and hands-on support."

Since 2015, the Opus Foundation has awarded $40,000 in grants to support CEF's Construction Careers Now program. The one-month pre-apprenticeship “bootcamp" program provides construction trades training free of charge to underemployed and unemployed adults in Colorado.

Meanwhile, our team members in the Denver office have provided hands-on support to CEF and its partner nonprofit organizations by hosting construction site tours for students.

“Most students have never been to a jobsite," Bryan said. “Seeing what happens there first-hand and being given opportunities to ask questions of Opus experts really opens their eyes to the possibilities. Those personal connections are powerful motivators for the students."

“Within the industry, Opus has some of the brightest and smartest people. Earlier in my career, I was actually a contractor myself and worked with Opus on some large projects here in Denver. They were one of my favorite general contractors to work with because of the people and their business model. As the developer, Opus was also the owner and operator of construction. So, they could make decisions quickly and keep projects moving. Fast forward a few years and they are now an incredible partner to CEF."

That feeling is mutual.

“Bryan Cook and the CEF team are playing a vital role in the future of construction and real estate in Denver and Colorado," said Nick Lauters, Project Executive. “They are providing vital resources and training to support both our current and next generation of skilled tradespeople. From their facilities and programming to the hands-on opportunities they facilitate for students, CEF is doing great things for our industry and communities." 


The Opus Foundation®​ is the corporate foundation for The Opus Group and is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families. The Foundation is committed to improving conditions that disproportionately affect historically underinvested individuals and communities by resourcing key focus areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work. The Opus Foundation is a separate entity from The Opus Group and is led by its own Board of Directors.

Filed Under: Opus Foundation, Denver