Construct Tomorrow program grows, has big plans for next year

Rich Krohn is a faculty member at North Hennepin Community College and an enthusiastic supporter of “Construct Tomorrow,” a Job fair for the construction trades that was held in Brooklyn Park on November 14. He is also a member of the Pile Drivers union. His first job when he got out of high school was working on the construction of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

“I understand the value of a craft education and the ability to earn while you learn," said Krohn. "I’d like to see these students get that same kind of opportunity.”

Over 350 students from area high schools attended the Brooklyn Park event to find out what it means to have a career in the Building Trades. It was the final in a series of "Construct Tomorrow" events in the Twin Cites and Rochester. The students were encouraged to ask questions of representatives of several different unions and try out some of the equipment they might be using as painters, iron workers, tile and brick layers, or electricians.

“We have some hands-on projects that the kids can come up and experiment with- try some tools, strip some wire, and get a little bit of an idea of this trade and how it might be a career option,” said Whitney Hunt, a long time member of IBEW Local 292.

College doesn’t hold an interest for some students, or is simply too expensive. “Construct Tomorrow” shows there are other career options.  “There is an emerging workforce of students who don’t know what advantages an apprentice training can bring,” said Mary Desjarlais, Apprentice Outreach, MN Department of Labor and Industry. “You can have a career with great wages and benefits without spending scads of money on college tuition.”

Those career opportunities are real. Many skilled workers will be retiring from the construction industry in the near future. According to Ethan Laubach, “Construct Tomorrow” program director. “In the next five years we are going to lose 30 or 40 percent of the construction workforce." The industry also needs a diverse workforce to meet the requirements of publicly funded projects.

“Construct Tomorrow” opens the door on the world of the skilled construction trades. Building trades unions have participated in many job fairs alongside colleges and employers, but “Construct Tomorrow” is a program focused almost exclusively on construction careers. It is sponsored by the Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, the Associated General Contractors and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

The first “Construct Tomorrow” was held in October 2013. Rick Martagon, Apprentice Director with the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts, said, “This program started out a year ago. We started out in one high school, serving just one group at Humboldt High in St. Paul. The program has been so successful we can’t keep up with the requests.” This year it expanded to a few other schools in the Twin Cities metro and in Rochester.

“Construct Tomorrow” has big plans for the upcoming year. In 2015 there are plans to showcase the program in larger venues such as the St. Paul Excel Center, the Duluth Convention Center, and the St.Cloud Convention Center, to name a few.  Students in all those areas will be invited to attend.

Said Martagon, “This program is getting bigger and bigger every moment.”

Here is Workday Minnesota's earlier story about the first “Construct Tomorrow" event.

More information on apprenticeships through the Building Trades is available, or the "Construct Tomorrow" Facebook page.

This article by John See is reprinted from WorkdayMinnesota.