A dozen students from the Mankato area got the chance to sample nine different building trades at the first South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp held at Mankato West High School. Over the course of two business weeks (Aug. 3-7 and Aug. 10-14), they experienced an interactive project each day, learning about that particular trade by actually doing it. Over the course of the day, the students had time to talk with the visiting union instructor, about techniques as well as the training requirements for each trade and their career opportunities.

According to Caleb Watson, the head tech instructor at Mankato West, more than 20 students signed up for the camp when it was first announced in the spring. Then the realities of the COVID 19 pandemic hit. “This year was weird with the COVID situation. We tried to do it in the first couple weeks of June, then we wound up pushing it [the dates] back and we weren’t sure if we could do it at all. But we wound up getting it together,” Watson explained. “With social distancing requirements, we could have 18 students. We got 12. I think that’s pretty good for the first year given all the uncertainties.”

Noted Watson, “What I liked about doing this in the summertime is the kids were able to be here the entire day [from 9-3 p.m.].”

The camp finished with a panel discussion featuring all the participating trades on the last day, Friday., Aug. 14, followed by a mini graduation ceremony where the participants received a certificate and a voucher for a free pair of boots.

“These are very needed programs to highlight what we do,” said Brian Farmer from the Cement Masons Local 633. The cement masons participated along with the carpenters, millwrights, painters and glaziers, electricians, operators, cement masons, bricklayers and laborers. “The engagement and attentiveness from these young people was excellent. They were really into it and asked a lot of good questions.”         

Lindsey Lawton, a recent graduate from Mankato East High School who’s headed to South Central College to pursue a welding degree, said, “It’s been fantastic. There’s a lot of good instructors here. I like asking a lot of questions, and all my questions have been answered thoroughly for the most part.”

Kaden Johnson and Blake Attenburg, both juniors at nearby Madelia High School (25 miles away), found out about the camp from a high school guidance counselor. Both are undecided about what trade they want to pursue, but found the experience worthwhile. “It’s a lot more hands-on than it would be in school, I think,” explained Altenburg.                 

There was no cost to the students to attend. The camp was financed by an APEX (apprenticeship expansion) grant from the Minnesota Department of Labor. Various trades pitched in to provide lunches and a fund for the free boots.“The kids who participated worked hard at the projects. We didn’t have any issues with them at all,” said Stacy Karels, business representative for Laborers Local 563. “We are planning to do it again next year.”