First place went to Carter County Schools. The winning students designed a 1956 Ford truck bed pond.

Building a Future

Tennessee spa retailer encourages high school students to consider trade jobs

In 2017, the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association began partnering with local high schools to create Battle of the Build, a competition designed to build connections between students and those who have made careers in the manufacturing, trades and construction industries in order to foster student appreciation for workforce careers. Five years and countless success stories later, the competition is helping shape the future for many high schoolers in Johnson City, Tennessee.

David Isaacs, owner of Isaacs Pool & Spa and Bullfrog Spas of Tri-Cities in Tennessee, is chairman of the board for the program and has been helping develop the annual event since its inception. 

Area high schools compete in Battle of the Build by planning and constructing a project that fits each year’s theme. This year’s “outdoors” theme saw entries ranging from patio furniture to grilling stations. Entries are presented to a panel of judges from all over the country who are professionals in the building industry. Each participating school is assigned a mentor from the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association, and all materials are provided as well. 

Cash prizes are awarded for first, second and third places based on an entry’s presentation, build quality, finish quality, creativity and complexity. The program is designed to connect local businesses with high school students through sponsorships, partnerships and mentorships. This year’s competition took place in late April and Carter County Schools won first place with its entry of a 1956 Ford truck bed pond.

“Our hope is that these relationships will ultimately demonstrate to students that they can choose a path out of high school that can provide them with a good-paying, purpose-filled career,” Isaacs says. “That path could still include a trade school, community college or four-year college, but to attract great talent, we have to start forging relationships with students early in their high school careers.” 

From making connections to overseeing the program’s logistics, to acting as emcee for the awards ceremonies, Isaacs is involved and invested in seeing students thrive.

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“Workforce development is certainly the impetus that drives the program, but the students are what make the program come to life,” Isaacs says. “When I visit the schools, I am humbled when I meet students who are homeless, elated when I meet students who have more talent than I could ever hope to have.” 

Lisa Luster, executive director for the Johnson City Area Home Builders Association, says the event gives students a glimpse of what they will need when they enter the building industry workforce after graduation, and the board encourages students to use the entire process as a learning experience. 

“Battle of the Build is, by far, my favorite Home Builders Association event of the year,” Luster says. “Watching the students plan, create and present their projects to an esteemed panel of judges from the building industry is exciting. The students put so much of themselves into the process, and I truly want them all to win. As a committee, we watch the process, celebrate with those who win, hug and console those who don’t — and then encourage them all to keep working hard.”

Luster says while picking up supplies at a Lowe’s for another event, she met two employees who had participated in the first Battle of the Build. Luster learned that because of the program, both young men, along with other participating classmates, met the manager of that Lowe’s during the competition. 

“I stood there listening to both young men talk about school, their jobs and their buddies that were excited because they also knew they had jobs waiting for them,” Luster recalls. “Nothing felt better than knowing we made a difference for them.”