By Peter Passi
Duluth sophomores took a break from some of their regular academic studies Tuesday to learn about career opportunities in the building trades.
Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council, said the event called "Construct Tomorrow" provides vital outreach at a crucial time for the industry.
"We're really short young men and women in the trades," he said, referring to aging of the workforce, and the looming prospect of what he called "a silver tsunami" as more workers reach retirement age.
The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center was filled with demonstration stations, where students could get a feel for some of the work tradespeople do and the skills they must develop.
"It's a hands-on experience. People have a chance to lay brick, mix concrete, walk a steel beam, grab a 22-ounce framing hammer and drive a 16-penny nail. Believe it or not, many students have never had that opportunity. It's a different generation," Carlson said.
The event continues Wednesday, hosting additional students from around the region, including Proctor, Esko, Cromwell-Wright, Silver Bay, Northern Lights Cooperative, Willow River, Moose Lake, Fond du Lac Ojibwe, Carlton, Hermantown, Two Harbors and Cloquet. All told, about 1,000 students are expected to take part.
"I learned a lot today," said Serenity Davis, a Denfeld High School sophomore, noting that she most enjoyed learning to lay carpet, blending it subtly to conceal a seam.
"There might be a lot of students who don't even know these opportunities exist," said Rachel Loeffler-Kemp, a community services director for the AFL-CIO. She noted that apprenticeships enable students to learn a trade and earn wages at the same time.
"They're making money instead of going into debt," Loeffler-Kemp said.
A welding simulator at the event introduced Donavin Turcotte, a 15-year-old Denfeld student, to a trade he'd never before considered as a potential career path.
"It's hard and easy," he said, explaining: "The challenge is the angle and the depth. The speed is easy."
Asked for his assessment of the event, Hunter Flynn, a 16-year-old Denfeld student, said: "It's pretty cool."
Flynn said he was particularly intrigued by the prospect of an iron workers apprenticeship.
This is the sixth year for the local event, and Stan Paczynski, vice president of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, said it seems to get a little bigger and better each year.
While the building trades are not alone in needing more young workers, Paczynski said the sheer volume of large construction projects now in the pipeline presents a challenge for the Northland.
As for the level of general awareness about the many good-paying job opportunities in the building trades, Paczynski said: "It's a lot better than it was five years ago, but it's still not to the level it should be."
Similar events have been organized across the state, but Paczynski said Duluth hosts the only two-day version. What's more the DECC's Construct Tomorrow event is the only one that also welcomes underemployed adults to a community open house so they, too, can learn about career opportunities in the building trades.
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