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story.lead_photo.caption Isaac Gentry, left, looks on as classmate Kaitlyn Taylor pours small gravel through a separator to get down to a specific size. Taylor, a senior at Eugene High School, was one of about 900 students to attend Build My Future, an interactive display at Cole County Fairgrounds Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The event was hosted by several area builders and contractors who had equipment on display so students could take part in skills challenges. Students from across the state were in Jefferson City for the five-hour interactive display, which is designed to stimulate a student's interest in a trade. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

The high school student stepped out of his comfort zone and into the cab of a mini-excavator with a wrecking ball on its arm.

Laughing nervously, he grabbed the controls to maneuver the wrecking ball, much like he might do with a video game. But in this mission, his goal was to carefully maneuver the wrecking ball around cones on the ground.

At the first cone, he clumsily knocked it over; a look of exasperation cut across his face.

But as he tried again and got the hang of the excavator's operation, a look of ease washed over his face while he maneuvered it around the cones effortlessly.

He was one of the 900 high school students from 28 Mid-Missouri schools who tried their hands at various construction industry practices at the Build My Future career expo Wednesday at the Jefferson City Jaycees Fairgrounds.

Sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of Missouri and the Home Builders Association of Central Missouri, the event gave students the opportunity to spend a day in the construction industry, featuring educational displays, equipment operations and learning labs with large and small construction equipment from 41 industry exhibitors.

Students participated in about five hours of hands-on activities, such as carpentry, surveying, welding, stamping concrete, mixing concrete and asphalt, drilling, hammering, stapling, framing, constructing computer parts, building fire pits and completing a residential construction obstacle course. Students also operated heavy equipment, using it to pick up tennis balls, place basketballs in trash cans, maneuver around cones, knock down bowling pins, and scoop up gravel and bricks.

This is the first year Build My Future has been held in Jefferson City. Originating in Springfield, the annual event has been a success since it started in 2017 and has grown to eight other states, according to the Build My Future website. AGCMO decided to branch out to other parts of the state in addition to Springfield to reach more students, said event organizer Charlyce Ruth, AGCMO's Southwest Missouri representative.

"It's really starting to spread across the United States, and we just felt that we needed to do more spreading within the state of Missouri," Ruth said.

Among the participating schools were Jefferson City High School, Capital City High School, Nichols Career Center, Jefferson City Academic Center, Blair Oaks High School, Helias Catholic High School, Eugene High School, Eldon Career Center, Linn County Career and Technical Center, Linn High School, St. Elizabeth R-4 High School and Vienna High School.

AGCMO plans to have this event in Jefferson City every year.

"Jefferson City just seemed like a great area to draw students from, and we have the opportunity as AGC of Missouri to partner with the HBA of Central Missouri, so we're truly representing all sides of the construction industry here in Jefferson City," she said.

The goal of the event is to show students the opportunities available in the construction industry and grow the workforce.

"We know more kids need to be introduced to the world of construction," Ruth said. "Every industry is struggling with a lack of workers, and we realize that people just don't know about the opportunities in the world of construction."

Nick Haslag, owner and operator of Haslag Landscape & Design, showed students how to stamp concrete from start to finish, simulating the concrete with sand. The students used a straightedge tool to level and smooth the surface before stamping it, adding texture and color to make it resemble a different material.

Haslag said he's glad this event was brought to Jefferson City because it's beneficial to the contractors and students, showing students different career paths where they can make a good living in a trade.

"If you don't get out there and see all the opportunities that you have, you really don't know what is available to you," he said. "This hopefully gives them some good career paths to go down if they're not wanting to go to a four-year school."

Katelyn Twehous, marketing manager of Twehous Excavating, showed students how to operate a remote-control machine for ground compaction and maneuver it around cones.

"The kids really seem to love it," Twehous said. "I've been telling them if they have ever run a remote-control car or played a video game, they're already an expert."

It's important for high school students to get involved in construction now so they know it's a viable career option, she said.

"You can go to State Tech, and you're not going to get in near as much debt as a four-year degree if it's something you're interested in," Twehous said. "We're thrilled to be a part of this. It's a really great program. I'm glad they brought it to Central Missouri finally because there's obviously an interest. The kids are loving this, and I was excited to see that."

This was one of several events AGCMO has sponsored to highlight Careers in Construction Month across Missouri. AGCMO is the "leading voice of the construction industry in Missouri, representing more than 500 commercial, industrial, heavy and highway contractors, industry partners and related firms in 110 counties throughout Missouri," according to its website.

Along with labor jobs, there are many other types of jobs available in the construction industry that AGCMO aim to showcase.

"Just like every industry, we need office staff, accountants, attorneys, project managers and craft workers," Ruth said. "We just feel like it's our responsibility to educate students, counselors and teachers about the opportunities in the construction industry."

Blair Oaks High School teacher Kristin Buschjost said the event was eye opening to students and teachers.

"I didn't even realize how much there is behind the scenes that you can do, not just the stuff that you put your hands on and work with, but the stuff like supplying and managing," she said.

Blair Oaks High School gave all students the opportunity to attend the event so they could learn about the opportunities available to them, Buschjost said.

"So many kids don't realize that there are so many opportunities to go straight from high school into the workforce or to go to a technical or trade school," she said. "We just wanted kids to know that there were a lot of opportunities that are still super lucrative and supportive."

Many students don't realize how many opportunities are available to them in the construction industry, but this event allows them to experience the opportunities firsthand and see that jobs in the construction industry can make great careers.

"I think they equate getting out of high school and getting a job with not getting paid as much as maybe they'd like to, and that's not true at all," Buschjost said. "In fact, most of these careers make more money than I do."

Buschjost said she's glad this event was brought to Jefferson City to give local students the opportunity to experience the world of construction and see what's out there.

"They've done a really good job putting all of this together," she said. "There's tons of hands-on stuff, and that's what kids really need. They need to do things in order to put that experience with what they might want to do in the future. There's just so much for the kids to see and do and be a part of."


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