A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Students Connect with Craft Professionals at Construction Careers Expo: Part 1 of 2 [VIDEO]

In November the Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Houston (ABC) and the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) hosted 400 high-school students currently enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes at their high schools to an event designed to acquaint the students with many different skilled trades that exist and to inspire those students to continue to pursue careers as skilled craft professionals.  The annual Construction Careers Expo gave the students a chance to hear from 43 contractors and owners who volunteered their time and equipment that day, and to get a taste of various professions through hands-on activities – often offered through friendly competitive challenges.

Groups of students rotated in 25-minute sessions through activities and demonstrations in Campbell Hall, the FFA Pavilion, and the Arena on the Pasadena Municipal Fairgrounds.  The day began with an introduction by Steven Horton, the Schools Program Director at CMEF, to the entire group of students gathered outside between the buildings.  After thanking the sponsors and event planners, he called on Pasadena City Councilman Steve Cote to lead the group in the United States Pledge of Allegiance.  A few more opening remarks and reminders to everyone to stay mindful of safety throughout the day, and the groups dispersed to go to their first assigned activity.  The leaders of each activity booth were professionals who perform these trades for a living.  Activities included interactive presentations on a wide variety of skills including Rigging, Carpentry, Flange Make-up, Scaffolding, Pipefitting, Electrical Wiring, Tool Identification, Conduit Bending, Dry Wall, Man Lift, Excavation, Spooling Pipe, “Get Your Gear On” Competition, Identifying Hazards, PPE, Crane Simulator, and Welding Simulator.  There were also several Career Information Booths with representatives from a variety of colleges with CTE programs and other industry-related companies.

In the “Get Your Gear On” Competition led by representatives from Fluor, five students at a time (or in the case of the 2-minute video below, four students and one of their teachers) raced to put on a set of personal protective equipment (PPE) to see who could get completely and correctly dressed the fastest.  The students were instructed that to live a life that is safe in an industry that is dangerous, it is important to take all available precautions including proper wearing of PPE.  I watched as Kim Treme, who has been with Fluor for 25 years at their Craft Staffing Office in Deer Park, instructed the students on the correct way to wear the PPE.  Afterwards she told me that this competition is a fun activity for the students, but very important because “it teaches them a lot.”

Pasadena City Councilman Steve Cote works for Brady Chapman Holland and Associates, a company that handles insurance and risk management for construction and manufacturing companies.  I asked him why he had volunteered to lead a group of students around the expo that day.  Cote explained:

“Our work involves a lot of construction companies.  There is a big shortage of workforce development in southeast Harris County.  I have been involved in the City Council of Pasadena.  We help make sure that the students have this convention center to utilize.  It’s a great event to bring all of these high-school students from all over the city of Houston to see what kinds of opportunities in trades that are available to them with good paying jobs.  The fact that there is a major shortage out there – we want to give them the opportunity to have a good career in these fields.”

Cote said that currently there are billions of dollars being spent to expand and grow industrial facilities in the area, but companies are having trouble getting enough skilled construction workers out there to build and operate those facilities.

You can hear more of Cote’s remarks in the following 1½-minute video:

Technical professional and construction services giant Jacobs provided a Hazard Identification activity for the students.  Edgar Yepez who works for Jacobs walked me through the set-up where students were asked to identify workplace hazards.  The display demonstrated many hazards to watch out for in addition to serving as a reminder to the students to remain alert and observant whenever they are on any jobsite.

Students were reminded to make sure that fire extinguishers have been currently inspected, to keep food and drinks away from tools and equipment, to check that power tools such as grinders have the proper safety guards attached, to notice that trash receptacles should be labeled according to the types of waste that can be disposed of, to notice broken or worn out equipment and protective gear, to be aware of possible trip hazards, and many other safety concerns.  Yepez explained that drinking water containers should be sealed shut and dated to ensure proper hygiene – something that I had not thought about before.

Watch Edgar Yepez walk me through the activity as he points out all of the hazards they had set up for the students to find in the following four-minute video:

One of the stations featured a welding simulator provided by Lincoln Electric, a company that manufactures welding equipment and tools, including educational tools such as the VRTEX® 360 which sales representative Adam Hoefler was demonstrating.  Hoefler let students try out the virtual training device which is used by schools to help train students in welding.

I asked Hoefler how he became interested in the craft of welding.  Hoefler studied mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, which is where he was recruited by Lincoln Electric.  Lincoln Electric looks for engineers to hire as sales reps, because part of the job includes looking for ways to lower the customers’ costs and increase their production.  Hoefler said his “engineering brain” and critical thinking abilities suit him well for the job.

In the following 3-minute video, a student (left) tries his hand on the welding simulator, while Hoefler directs him with information provided on the interactive screen on the right.  Afterwards, Hoefler talks about the high demand for welders, and his role in recruiting young people into the field.

Look for more video coverage of the Construction Careers Expo in an upcoming post here on Construction Citizen.