“This Construction Career Day is really reaching some level of maturity,” said Danny Claiborne, chairman of the Institute of Engineering at Murray State University. He spoke as dozens of high school students recently intermingled with professional construction workers in the William Cherry Expo Center. “Its primary purpose is to let young people see the skills trades and all the industry related to construction. There are so many different kinds of subcontractors and skill levels in different industries that these young people don’t know. Their high school vocational schools do a good job of exposing them to some entry-level positions; this career day then exposes them to the diversity of the construction industry. Many of the students will be very serious about it and make some important contacts here today.”
Major pathways leading to success in construction include trade union apprenticeship and certification programs, community and technical college two-year Associate of Applied Science degrees, and especially for construction management, four-year university bachelor’s degrees. “I think there’s even a fourth tier potentially,” Claiborne said. “Many of these students could step right out of high school with the skill level they’ve developed at their area technology center and go straight into an entry-level job.”
Claiborne added, “We’re seeing after seven years of doing this, probably 25 percent of the MSU students volunteering now attended this event while in high school. In addition, some of our MSU students will enter positions of managing workers in these skilled trades. They see the whole industry here and where they themselves might fit into it.”
At MSU, Claiborne noted, “The administration is becoming more engaged and seeing how important it is to our entire western Kentucky region. We’re seeing now that the shortage is as bad as it ever has been in this region. We’re almost in a desperate mode. The jobs are here and the students don’t have to drive to another state to get great-paying jobs unless they want to move.”
Participating high school students came from 18 area technology centers and 25 school systems, said Chris Nelson, executive vice-president of the Associated General Contractors of Western Kentucky. “The best part is it connects them to professionals in the field, so that the students then have direct contacts with the construction industries,” he said, numbering participating construction industry vendors at 33, the highest participation rate for the event yet, especially compared to 22 vendors that first year. The number of participating students the first year has doubled, from 800 to 1,600 in its seventh year.
“Our contractors have gotten together to publicize the industry to students even more,” Nelson said. “We’re featuring a tech student of the week in the Paducah Sun newspaper; each will come from one of the seven area technology centers and we’ll have a banquet at the end of the school year with scholarship winners and gifts of tools for those entering the workforce.”
Another Construction Career Day perineal visitor is Joel Crider, the electricity instructor for 26 years at the Mayfield-Graves County ATC. “After retirement, I’ve started to work for the AGC of Western Kentucky as workforce coordinator,” he said. “My job is to try to get students exposed to and interested in the construction trades. So, I’ll do a lot of coordination between contractors and schools, getting contractors into the schools and schools on to the job sites with shadowing, cooperative work programs, and things such as that.”
Crider concluded, “There’s not any one best route for any student to prepare for the workforce. The construction trades are so open now that they are in need of good employees. So, we’re trying to find people who don’t know what they want to do yet, but learn that good careers are available and they can stay here if they like or find work in other places, too.”
Graves County High School senior Landon Dowdy participated in the Seventh Annual Associated General Contractors of Western Kentucky/Murray State University Construction Career Day recently at Murray State University’s William Cherry Expo Center. He attended through the Graves High agriculture program. He tried his hand at breaking concrete. “It’s harder to do than I thought it would be,” he said, “but it was pretty cool!” Steve Logan, left, of Hilti Inc. watched Dowdy’s efforts. “I’ve been here all seven years,” he said. “We now see some of the kids working in the field who came to some of the first Construction Career Days.”
Graves County High School 2017 graduate and current West Kentucky Community and Technical College student Skylar Adams removes the metal hub of a large truck wheel, as two of his colleagues watch. The three were among those operating vendor booths to highlight jobs through the Seventh Annual Associated General Contractors of Western Kentucky/Murray State University Construction Career Day recently held at the MSU Expo Center.