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Building for the Future: Inaugural NWI Construction and Skilled Trades Day a Success

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

NWI Construction, Trades DayIn late November, high school students filled the large Industrial Building at the Lake County Fairgrounds during the inaugural Northwest Indiana Construction & Skilled Trades Day.

The event was organized by the Construction Advancement Foundation (CAF) and the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board (NWIWB).

“We really want to get our message out there that there are viable jobs in the construction industry and the trades,” said Kevin Comerford, director of professional development with the CAF. With over 20,000 construction jobs in Northwest Indiana, construction represents one of the major industries of the region. As parents are becoming more aware that there are great jobs with good pay that don’t require a four-year college degree (and student debt that goes with it), this event is intended to reinforce the fact that there are other options that may likely be a better fit for students.

Inside the building, trade unions from the area were organized into stations and had spent the day before assembling activities and informational presentations for the students. In one corner, bricklayers had tables set up for students to try their hand at manipulating mortar and learned some tricks of the trowel. At another spot, ironworkers had assembled a short framework and let students wear the safety harnesses and tool belts that workers use on the job, then practiced walking on the beams before placing a bolt or two. Simulators and VR demos featured at a few booths as well.

“We began talking with the schools and gauging their interest in an event like this and many offered a positive response to it,” said Linda Woloshansky, President and CEO of Center of Workforce Innovations, a non-profit that operates under the NWIWB and helped coordinate the event. “Many of the students coming in are still undecided about their career fields, so we are getting the right kinds of kids in front of the trades.”
Blending hands-on activities with plenty of representatives to answer questions and provide printed information as well as application paperwork, it was clear early on that this event was a massive success. Students were engaged in the activities and were hearing not just what the jobs required, but why the workers enjoyed the work and how students could begin the process of becoming a skilled tradesperson.

Twenty-six high schools led approximately 1,000 students through the stations throughout the day. Students had timed intervals, ensuring they had a chance to visit most of the 14 stations.

With students concerned about finding good jobs and the trades concerned about how many current workers are reaching retirement age, positive partnerships leading to positive outreach programs such as this one (which is now rumored to become an annual event) are critical to bridging the divide for the benefit of everyone involved.

Kevin Comerford, Director of Professional Development
Construction Advancement Foundation

Linda Woloshansky, President and CEO
Center of Workforce Innovations