|Posted on Monday, November 17, 2003|
We Mean Business. Illinois Business.
Career expo sparks youths' interest in construction trades
With the "graying" of America's workforce, organizations and administrators are scrambling to replace retiring baby boomers with young workers, particularly in the construction and trade industry.
The Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program was created in 1992 and one of its goals is to address such industry needs.
SICAP is a nonprofit industry trust fund comprised of contributions by contractors of several trades: carpenters, cement masons, plasterers, laborers, operating engineers and painters. The collective bargaining agreement negotiated with these participating trades serves as the vehicle for the contributions, based upon hours worked, according to Tim Garvey, director of SICAP programs and executive director of the Southern Illinois Builders Association.
SICAP contributions power construction safety and education programs and economic development initiatives. Included in these are MetroLink, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, efforts to keep Scott Air Force Base open and viable, Illinois Citizens for Better Highways and its successor, the Transportation For Illinois Coalition (which is supporting the new Mississippi River Bridge Project), Midwest Area River Coalition (supporting river navigation) and other organizations. Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois and the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association are also supported in part by SICAP funding.
Education is a key component of SICAP, Garvey said. Efforts including career expos and executive training programs are geared toward generating interest and awareness among young people - and providing an opportunity for those who have years of experience to gain skills.
"We have a comprehensive approach to our outreach efforts to draw interest and fulfill our workforce requirements for the future," Garvey said. "There are a number of ways we can point young people toward the construction industry."
SICAP launched the Construction Industry Career Expo several years ago to give eighth-grade students a "real-world" taste of the opportunities available to them in the trades and construction industry overall.
Ten trade locals affiliated with the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council participated in the Southwestern Illinois Construction Industry Career Expo held Oct. 28-30 at the Gateway Center in Collinsville. Bricklayers Local No. 8; Carpenters' District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity; Cement Masons Local No. 90; Electrical Workers Local No. 309; Iron Workers Local No. 392; Twelve Counties Southwestern Illinois Laborers' D.C.; Operating Engineers Local No. 520; Painters District Council No. 58; Plumbers and Pipetrades Locals No.101 and 360 and Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 268 hosted interactive booths that gave middle schoolers a quick, hands-on opportunity in each particular trade.
Nearly 1,000 students from school districts within Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair counties (including East St. Louis District #189) participated.
Events such as a nail-driving contest (kids hammering to see who could drive a nail into a piece of board the fastest); Jacob's ladder where the children could see how voltage moves along copper; and plasma cutting, which involves aiming a fiery tool at metal and cutting it in a straight line, all sparked interest.
Three 13-year-old, eighth-grade students at Triad Middle School found this year's SICAP expo interesting and each was attracted to different trades.
"If I went into any trade, it'd be electricity," said Dusty Dineen. "I love electricity."
Caleb DeVore said, "I really like welding. I want to be an engineer and work with rocketry and missiles one day."
"I just may want to go into plumbing," said Bryce Stabile.
The expo also provided students with an understanding of curriculum choices to make for high school, depending on areas of interest, and the financial benefits of working in the construction industry.
Cheryl Hood, system director of the St. Clair County/Southwestern Illinois College Regional Vocational System, said when the career expo was started, it was decided that eighth grade students were the best audience because by the time children reach high school they may have already made the choice of what they are going to do.
"At this time in their lives, they need to begin to focus on what they want to do as an adult," Hood said. "That can change tomorrow, and that's OK, but it's important to have goals."
The fair presents opportunities to see what the trades are and what a union is.
"It's very impressive that the unions are willing to give their time and spend their money," Hood said. "It's a fantastic opportunity in this area."
Garvey said attracting students to the industry starts even earlier with SICAP-sponsored "Build-Up" and on-site tool kits for fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
"These are teaching aids designed to give kids an appreciation of what building and construction are all about," Garvey said.
The paper bridge project is a competition through Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, involving young men and women from the various school districts.
"Basically, they design paper bridges and see how much weight they can bear before they collapse," Garvey said. "It helps them to find out if they may have any interest in construction or engineering."
The Construction Management Technology Program at Southwestern Illinois College is a program designed for someone who has worked in the skilled trades for a while and is considering moving into management.
"If you're into field supervision and want to hone your skills as a supervisor or a superintendent, you can get up to an associate's degree that will then transition into a four-year degree," Garvey said.
"SICAP has just funded a brand new program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville that is co-sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis," Garvey said.
Mary Sumner, PhD, associate dean for executive and continuing education in the School of Business at SIUE, said the Construction Leadership Institute is a leadership development program for the construction industry.
"The major objective is to provide individuals who want to take on leadership roles in the industry with the background that they need," Sumner said. "It's targeted to people who have five to 20 years in the industry and want to go into management."
The first of its kind in the Metro East area, the institute is modeled after a similar program in Phoenix that is sponsored by the Arizona Builders Alliance, Sumner said.
SIUE's first session will start in January; the 10-week program will be held on alternate Fridays and Saturdays.
"We are bringing in top faculty from around the country who specialize in management skills particular to the construction industry," Sumner said.
David Foree, executive secretary/treasurer with the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, said that in many cases, high school students who are automatically being steered toward universities might find working with their hands in a skilled trade environment to be a better fit.
"By reaching them at a younger age, in seventh or eighth grade, they can see what is available," Foree said. "In a market like we have now - which is holding its own in Southwestern Illinois - builders are coming to the area because they see nothing but green. Roads and chools have to be built and shopping centers are going up. At this point we haven't seen the slump that a lot of the country has. Construction has a good future here."