The layout of the 847-square-foot home features two convertible rooms, an upstairs loft, a vaulted living-room ceiling, a kitchen (designed with guidance from students in Rancho Cielo’s culinary arts program), and screened-in front porch.

In the ongoing search for a solution to the skilled labor shortage in the construction industry, there is no silver bullet, no guaranteed training solution that is going to lead construction employers out of the most troublesome of predicaments plaguing the industry at all levels. However, there are some glimmers of hope. The story of Rancho Cielo’s stunning win at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon in Costa Mesa, Calif., is one of those glimmers—even a beacon of inspiration—for all of us in the building trades, not least because this story brings us all one step closer to a model for practical, healthy, net-zero, and water-efficient homes.

On October 17, 2023, the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon announced that the team representing Rancho Cielo Construction Academy won the top prize in a sustainable home design and construction competition. Rancho Cielo was not only the smallest school with the fewest resources participating in the challenge, but it was also the only school that doesn’t grant degrees. Rancho Cielo bills itself as a comprehensive job-training program for students who are “under­served,” which it identifies as “low income, drug use, gang involvement, criminal background, truancy, school credit deficient, school dropouts, probation referral, homeless, on foster care.” All the other teams were from colleges and universities, including the University of California San Diego in collaboration with Zhejiang Normal University of China, University of California Irvine in collaboration with Orange Coast College, Cal Poly Pomona, and several Cal State programs.

Read More