High school students in the Ozarks get interactive opportunities to experience construction-related industries

Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 6:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - According to the Associated General Contractors of America, 95 percent of Missouri contractors have positions they can’t fill. The workforce shortage is why an event geared towards attracting high school students to the industry was held in Springfield on Wednesday.

The “Build My Future” event held at the Ozark Empire Fair E-Plex was sponsored by the AGCMO Education Foundation, the Springfield Contractors Association, and 46 other organizations as a full-day interactive showcase for 2,700 high school students from 70 high schools.

“We started this event pre-pandemic because we knew workforce shortages were coming,” said Megan Short, the Executive Director for the Springfield Contractors Association. “I know every industry is feeling it now but construction is really hurting for manpower and it’s going to start impacting everything that you’re seeing on a daily basis at some point.”

Simply put it was “Bob the Builder” heaven as students could get their hands on heavy machinery and plumbing pipes, cranes, or electrical equipment. And it wasn’t everything but the kitchen sink. The sinks were here too.

You could swing an old-school hammer or go virtual as there were several simulators on hand like one operated by Vermeer Great Plains.

“This simulator shows how to put in utility pipes which could be water, sewer, gas, or fiber,” explained Alex Sonnenberg, the simulator’s instructor. “So this show’s them how to run the equipment before they get on the real thing.”

Two Logan-Rogersville sophomores were among the many young women at the event and they both tried their hand at climbing a utility pole.

“It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be,” said Caelyn Wood. “When you’re using the strap that holds you onto the pole you need to do it (lifting it up on the pole) like you’re panning for gold, that kind of motion. It was fun. I would definitely consider doing something like that.”

“It was a little bit scary because I’ve never done anything like that,” said Avery McMahan-Rodden. “But I’ve learned so much more about this field and it’s really made me want to look into it for the future.”

“There are so many career pathways for women that want to go into the industry,” added Short. “So we’re excited they are here checking it out because we need everybody. We’ve had a lot of businesses reach out and say they want to diversify. So women that were told in the old days they needed to try something else, now it’s an opportunity that’s opened up to every demographic.”

Among the 64 vendors on hand looking to recruit potential job candidates were MoDOT, City Utilities, and Springfield’s Environmental Services.

“We have an estimate of about 1,300 miles of sewer mains in the city that we have to maintain,” said Springfield Environmental Services Video Technician Tim Moore. “And we have close to 30,000 manholes. It’s a year-round job. We have four TV trucks that run full time with the goal of finding and making repairs in the lines. It’s an excellent place to work and we do have a lot of openings right now.”

Even though cleaning sewers might be a bit of a hard sell, the city had an elaborate set-up with various robot cameras on display, a TV truck showing videos of the work involved, and a toilet bowl filled with free Tootsie Rolls.

So what were students inquiring about?

“Everybody wants to know if we find any animals in the sewers,” Moore replied. “We do see snakes, spiders, and bugs. And we have a video of a crocodile in a sewer but it actually came from Florida. We do show that to them though and they really enjoy it.”

Sewer crocodiles aside, most of the excitement though was just about young people exploring different avenues that may end up changing their direction in life.

“I think it’s immensely important,” Logan-Rogersville teacher Sydney Laflen said. “I’m hoping they see how many ways you can have a career that doesn’t require a four-year degree.”

“We have had students in the past that attended this event, met an employer and they got a job before they walked out the door,” Short pointed out. “And there are students who attend who may not have been considering a career in the industry but when they start trying stuff, they find out they’re pretty good at it. That’s the awesome part of this is that they get to try out things that weren’t on their radar before.”

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