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AGC of Western Kentucky, MSU show high school ATC students the huge demand for construction industry workers

“This is our ninth annual construction career day event, with about 900 students coming here today,” said Chris Nelson. The executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Western Kentucky spoke Wednesday, Sept. 11, from the floor of the Murray State University Expo Center. “We think we’re bridging the gap between industry and education and between the students and the parents.” 

As evidence, he noted that a number of AGC members have hired students who attended in recent years. Today’s students and their parents are realizing those jobs often pay well and can last for entire careers 

“It’s encouraging that the Kentucky Department of Education’s leader (Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis) sees career and technical education as important,” Nelson added. “It’s also a huge tie-in to economic development in Kentucky, to have a skilled workforce ready to go out and be employed.” 

Another positive sign, he said, is the adding of new programs at high school area technology centers. Examples include adding electrical at Murray-Calloway County and possibly diesel mechanics at the Paducah ATC. Caldwell County has a new plumbing program as well. 

“Our national AGC organization did a survey of 2,500 contractors and 80 percent say they’re having a hard time filling skilled trade positions,” Nelson explained, “and they expect that trend to continue.” 

“We’re struggling to find young people who want to learn the trade,” said Adam Terry of Mott Electric. “We have apprenticeship programs to teach them as we go. We have several who have completed the entire four-year apprenticeship program and are some of our top guys. It’s on-the-job training, both the practical and book (study) side of why they’re doing it.” 

Barry McDonald is president of Bill Adams Construction and AGC member. “The education committee I serve on got this event going,” he said. “We modeled it after one in Shelbyville. The kids get a chance to operate a drill, a troweling machine, or other equipment hands-on. So, they leave here with a good impression about the construction work and management.” 

“What this event does is something teachers aren’t in a position to do on their own,” said Joel Crider. Formerly an electricity teacher for the Mayfield-Graves County ATC, he’s now workforce coordinator for the AGC of Western Kentucky. “This exposes students to things that might not be taught anywhere in this region – all the careers available within construction and related to it. For example, we have a company here that does thermal imaging to find hot spots. We have a line crew set up, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, and other work that might make a connection with a student.” 

The entry point for most students into investigating construction career possibilities include high schools and area technology centers, such as the Mayfield-Graves County ATC. The latter serves students in both school districts as well as Carlisle County High School.

Students who pursue construction-related postsecondary programs often attend one of the two-year schools in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. West Kentucky Community and Technical College is the farthest west of those 16 institutions. Certification or a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree typically are the goals. Murray State and other universities offer programs such as MSU’s construction management program as a four-year degree. 

“Vender participation has continued to grow and every year students seem to make more contacts with potential employers,” said Mike Miller, principal of the Mayfield-Graves County ATC. “Our speech to our students is, ‘Make contacts. Get business cards. Introduce yourself to prospective employers. We’re seeing the fruits of this now. These kids are following up by applying for jobs.” 

(photo caption)
The Associated General Contractors of Western Kentucky and Murray State University’s Institute of Engineering sponsored their ninth annual construction career day Wednesday, Sept. 11, at MSU’s Expo Center. It attracted approximately 900 students from high school “area technology centers” throughout western Kentucky. Inspiring the event is the construction industry’s need to replace thousands of baby boomers, as they retire. The fact that most such careers pay well adds incentive, as members from various aspects of the industry make contact with students studying various trades. Here, a student operates a backhoe, under the supervision of an industry professional. 
(photo by Paul Schaumburg, Graves County Schools)

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