Students at La Cuesta High School recently got the opportunity to watch a career-day presentation that was anything but your average sales pitch. In fact, thanks to Frank Schipper, president of Schipper Construction, and a crew of five others, what the auditorium of rapt students witnessed was downright electric.

“In 20 minutes, from scratch, the six of us framed a wall, stood it up, installed electrical and plumbing, and dry-walled the entire thing,” said Schipper, former chairman of the California Education Foundation. “We then had one student come up and turn the light switch on and adjust the dimmer, and we had another student turn on the water. I think we really kept their attention.”

The presentation marked the debut of a new career-day program developed by the Tradart Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 by Schipper’s wife, Leslie Meadowcroft-Schipper.

Tradart’s mission is “to operate and promote career development and workplace preparation programs through active partnerships with the community and industry so that students learn skills and gain competency as they work toward their professional goals,” according to its Web site.

During the short build, both the plumber and the electrician in Schipper’s crew wore T-shirts with the numbers 10-40 written on the fronts. Schipper explained to the student audience that 10 was the average hourly wage for someone just starting out in either of those professions, and that 40 represented the hourly wage of a trained and experienced master plumber or electrician, eliciting an excited stir throughout the auditorium. The plumber, a former East Los Angeles gang member, and the electrician, himself a La Cuesta graduate, are now proud homeowners in Santa Barbara.

The skills the Tradart Foundation teaches range from after-school cooking programs to construction skills classes. The foundation’s flagship program, however, is called the Tools for Schools Program.

Tools for Schools distributes tools, supplies and building materials to local high school shop programs that are suffering from recent budget cuts. In addition, the program supplies volunteers who visit classrooms to offer expertise and provide students with demonstrations to further their knowledge of the construction trade.

Schipper said these types of skill sets can prove invaluable for high school students who are on the fence about whether college is the next step.

“It’s our feeling that so much energy and money is spent trying to get kids to go to college, even though only 22 percent of U.S. jobs require a college degree,” Schipper said. “Instead, we offer career technical education that allows kids to learn skills that can earn them a very good living.”

Partners in Education, one of the Tradart Foundation’s main sponsors, was so impressed by Schipper’s presentation at La Cuesta that it adopted the model for all career-day presentations.

Partners in Education, another local nonprofit organization, helps connect businesses with schools to improve public education. It has been instrumental in allowing Schipper and the Tradart Foundation to continue to meet the challenges involved with reaching students from Carpinteria to Goleta.

Schipper, who turned 70 in March, recently conquered a challenge of a different kind.

On May 17, he began a cross-country trek on his bicycle, taking 82 days (71 of which were riding days) to ride 4,285 miles from Yorktown, Va., to Florence, Ore. The ageless wonder crossed 11 states, and as a bonus, he raised $36,000 for the Tradart Foundation. But Schipper said the fundraising was just the icing on his 70th birthday cake.

“I turned 70 and I just thought, ‘I might as well do something big,’” he explained modestly.

The Tradart Foundation continues to do big things of its own by providing viable career alternatives to high school students who are looking for post-graduation job opportunities in a variety of fields. Internships are available. Click here for more information.

“What a great way to find out if that’s what you want to do for a living,” Schipper said.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.