Construct Tomorrow took its show to Northern Minnesota this past February, hosting events in Hinckley at Grand Casino and for two days in Duluth at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Construct Tomorrow hosted nine events, starting in Eveleth in October and ending with one at Minneapolis Cooper High School in early March. The Duluth events hosted 1,000 students from 30 schools and the Hinckley had 700 from 18 schools across that region of Minnesota.
Both venues were filled with demonstration stations where students could experiment with the tools of the different trades. Laying brick, mixing concrete, pounding nails, walking a steel beam, pulling wire with electricians — all hands on experiences allowing them to try their hand at a skilled trade. Students could practice hand-eye skills used in welding and running a backhoe via computer simulations, too. Moreover, they were able to speak directly with a union’s apprenticeship coordinator and educate themselves about the opportunities in the trades. “We tell them how much money we make, how much we put into our benefits and retirement and, basically, give them the facts about this career,” said Andrew Richmond, co-chair for Construct Tomorrow and apprenticeship coordinator for Roofers Local 96.
“Our mission with Construct Tomorrow is to get involved with the students and let them know there are other options than just going to college. They can make really good money in the different trades with benefits and the opportunity to retire someday. Schools are pushing the two or four-year programs to students and they don’t realize school isn’t for everybody,” Richmond explained.
“What’s really awesome is I take students to all kinds of college tours all over the state and this one has generated more excitement and more enthusiasm for my students and their parents than any other event that I had planned for them this year’” said Sarah Larson, academic advisor for the Cass Lake-Bena Schools who brought two van loads full of students to the Construct Tomorrow event in Hinckley. “Most of them are not familiar with the apprenticeship programs, with the training and the different job opportunities that are out there for them and this is hands on. A lot of my students that I brought down are hands on learners. They want to dig in; they want to get dirty; they want to look at the work at the end of the day and say, ‘Man, I made that’ and have that sort of pride.”
Tricia Neubarth, a guidance counselor at Harbor City International School, a charter school in Duluth, said, “I’ve got kids doing postsecondary who really aren’t sure what they want to do. Got kids here who never even touched a hammer and they are doing phenomenal or they’ve been able to walk a four-inch steel beam. It’s a great opportunity, I think, for kids to see what is out there and not just the traditional path I think a lot of people think they need to go.”
The goal of Construct Tomorrow is to attract high school students into apprentice programs and then full-fledged trades workers. The early returns are promising. Checking in at the various booths, Neubarth said she noticed the reactions of some of her students: “… and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, now I know this is for sure what I want to do!’”