Thursday, March 06, 2014
When Rodney Ashley was working on the construction of the Kansas City Kansas Community College Dr. Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center last year, he felt like he had come full circle. The lifelong Kansas City, Kan. resident not only graduated from Wyandotte High School in 1976, but one year later, received a certificate in Building Trades from what was then referred to as the Kansas City, Kansas Area Vocational Technical School (now KCKCC-TEC).
“When I started VoTec, it was my senior year, and I took building trades,” he said. “It was after high school, and I still had not decided what I wanted to do. In my senior year, I made straight As, and I was part of the National Technical Honor Society. I had a lot of colleges sending me information to come and get scholarships. But I liked the class (building trades) and went back for post high school work.”
Ashley said he enjoys building trades because he liked working with his hands. He also took the Electrical Motor Controls class and Pre Heating and Cooling class at the school, where he learned how to charge air condensers.
When he was at AVTS, he was also a member of the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) and had the opportunity to participate in the United States Skill Olympics. Of the three students that went to the state competition, Ashley placed first, qualifying for the national competition. Although he did not place, he described it as a “good experience.”
“You have to realize that part of our class was building a house, and it was the first house for the school district,” he said. “It was a great experience just building the house if you have never done it before. I actually got to be there from the very beginning, and then finished it. The experience of doing it is the thing I remember. I mean that was just something. The superintendent of schools even came and toured the house.”
Ashley remembers many of his teachers from his time at AVTS, but there was one that really stood out - Joe Jennings. In fact, the educator made such an impact that he was the best man at Ashley’s wedding.
“The best instructor you can get,” he said of Jennings. “Great motivator and could really get you going. Would talk to you about anything.”
Ashley’s first job was with Brame Custom Builders, a local company that built houses. He said they had a few contracts and needed carpenters. Although he was not finished with his certificate, he worked while finishing school.
“Joe Jennings said that I should go and take a test at the carpenters Union Hall to get a membership,” he said. “Went to work roughing in houses and got experience in nailing. Jennings pushed the fact of nailing because I wanted to be a carpenter.”
Ashley described that first job as “pretty neat,” describing how he learned to install a floor by driving nails with one hit. After three months, he got a call from an apprenticeship program. In addition to his hourly pay, he became vested in the insurance and pension program. After four years, he became a journeyman. An individual earning a journeymen’s card is equivalent to a person earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
The first union job for Ashley was working for Glen O’Brien Movable Partitions. He helped to install acoustic ceilings at Proctor and Gamble. After working for the company for several years, learning more about building doors and frames, he went onto work for Louis and Goodman Cabinets. He helped to install cabinets as well as remodeled offices. From there, he moved onto Mid-Continent Industrial Installation, Wilcon Incorporated and Omega Door and Hardware.
Finally after more than 30 years in the industry, Ashley returned to the technology center, but this time to help remodel the former Wal-Mart building. He said the opportunity was exciting.
“I came here in the very beginning, from start to finish,” he said. “In my mind I was thinking we are doing this for the college. But then I started talking and someone said that VoTec was going to be here. I thought it was great. I am going to go back and help build the school I once went to.”
Ashley said he would certainly recommend KCKCC-TEC to other students. He said it is important for students to learn everything they can before heading out into the workforce.
“For me personally, I would take the Building and Property Maintenance class. You always have guys on site to fix the stuff. It’s a good foundation to start with,” he said. “I see a lot of that at the campus – a little of everything. Learn all you can, and it will help you out in the long run. You have to be open to change – a lot of times for the better. Do not be stuck in one way of doing things.”
The KCKCC Dr. Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center (TEC) offers more than 20 hands-on technical skill training programs during the day and evening, which lead to certificates and employment in office and computer technology, service and health occupations as well as trade and industrial fields.
For more information on the KCKCC-TEC, call 913-288-7800.