Central Missouri students with an interest in building, welding, excavating and other technical careers flocked to Jaycees Fairgrounds on Tuesday for "Build My Future," a career day and industry showcase featuring more than 50 vendors.
Around 1,800 students from more than 50 schools attended, including local schools such as Blair Oaks High School, Calvary Lutheran High School, Nichols Career Center, Cole R-5 Eugene High School, Helias Catholic High School and Cole R-1 Russellville High School.
Charlyce Ruth, an organizer of the event, said it started in 2017 in Springfield but has expanded over the years to other areas in the state. It now takes place in six different locations in Missouri and, by the end of the year, is expected to have reached about 8,000 high school students. This is the second year it has been offered for Central Missouri.
"Particularly post-COVID, our teachers and counselors have had really full plates dealing with a lot of issues, and they don't know everything about every industry, so as the construction industry, it's our job to be the cheerleaders of our industry and educate students, teachers, counselors, about the career path opportunities in the construction industry," Ruth said.
Among the new vendors this year are Bloomsdale Excavating; Women of Asphalt, an organization dedicated to empowering women in asphalt careers; and Lunda, which is working on the Rocheport bridge.
Inside the barn and out of the cold, students could explore booths featuring the National Guard, the American Welding Academy and DeLong's Inc., among many others. There were booths where students could try welding a patch onto a roof, with the fastest time earning them recognition; booths where they could learn about weatherization by watching the air flow in a model house; and booths where they could put together their own metal toolbox, build a birdhouse, or put up drywall and plywood.
If they were willing to brave the chill outside, there were opportunities to try out larger pieces of equipment. Frank Twehouse Excavating Company Inc. had set up a course for students to guide a remote-control compacter through. There was an excavator attached to a large, flat metal plate, forming a giant "putter" that students could use to guide a large rubber ball into a pop-up soccer goal. A precision station required students to carefully use an excavator to tip basketballs, volleyballs and softballs off the top of orange cones and into a bucket, then drop them off in a trash can. At the end of the lot, students could see Berendzen Construction smoothing out concrete.
There were also a few opportunities for students to play a casual game of cornhole or giant Jenga.
Trina Lieb, guidance counselor at Calvary Lutheran High School, said 11 students came to the event with an interest in drafting, welding and other pursuits.
She said she suspected there would be a few more students next year after the students who came this year went back to school and talked to their peers.
Teaching isn't all about books, Lieb added.
"We've got to meet the needs of our students," she said, noting the event provides an opportunity for students at a time when many industries are hurting for workers.
Helias had 19 students at the event.
"We have college reps that come visit for the students that are interested in college, so I think it's equally important for the students that are interested in trades to have this experience," counselor Lacy Ralston said.
Cody Bashore, Nichols Career Center director, said most Nichols students attended with their home schools, many of which also brought freshmen and sophomores, but Nichols brought about 30 students.
"We've got kids who are interested in heavy equipment, we've got kids who are interested in carpentry, we've brought some that are really looking to get into the electrical field," Bashore said. Nichols had its own table set up featuring welding, HVAC, building trades and mechatronics programs.
"It's only the second year we've had this, and the kids just love it every time they come. They get to drive the big heavy equipment. They get to run the simulators," he said. It offers them a safe way to practice skills they may not have thought about.
"The work itself looks a lot different than it did 20-30 years ago, so they need some high-tech kind of minds to operate the machinery," Bashore said.
"Over half of our students go to college, and the other half pretty well go out into the industry or a state technical school, they're getting certifications in some of these areas, and they're not well-represented at some of the career fairs and things schools put on," he said. "So it's just good to get kids outside, able to explore some of the career paths that aren't typically highlighted. And they're good-paying jobs."