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Build It: Construction! 2019

Spyder Crane - Operating Engineers 324

Preparing to Inspire

The energy in the room drastically shifted from the previous day when we were simply setting up the venue. Parents, volunteers, and construction workers of various fields bustled around the carefully constructed (pun intended) Build It: Construction! Expo at Iron Ridge’s first floor offices.

Less than 24 hours before, volunteers turned the empty office space into a construction mecca, complete with 5 hands-on construction exploration stations, a DJ spinning old-school style, a red Spyder crane gracing the entrance, and, of course, the esteemed Pathway X ball pit, where candid conversations have been fostered at all PxE events. With coffee and donuts flowing, clipboards securely situated in eager hands, and neon construction vests draped over shoulders, we were finally ready.


Hello Room - Iron Ridge Marketplace, first floor offices

As buses arrived, students from Ferndale Middle School, and Ferndale High School and University High School infiltrated the ‘prep’ room, where they were briefed on what to expect prior to beginning their 3 hour field trip exploring careers in construction.

For a moment, the room was filled with an anticipatory flutter. But, as the students split off into smaller groups and moved to their assigned stations, it was easy to see how each activity was going to make a big impact.

Time to Explore!

The students made a loop around the large, colorful room, encountering representatives and hands-on activities from each of the 5 stations, including: ‘Plumbers/ Electricians,’ ‘Welding,’ ‘Operating Engineers,’ ‘Carpentry,’ and ‘Drone Pilots.’

Zone 1

Operating Engineers (OE324 Michigan)

MLTAI mini-scaffolding building activity
Excavator simulator - OPerating Engineers 324


In an Ikea furniture-like fashion, students worked together to assemble mini scaffolding towers with basic overview instruction from educators at MLTAI, or the Michigan Laborers Training & Apprenticeship Institute, -- a task which we group leaders admired for its applicability to useful, paid, real-life skills (see Task Rabbit). This area also included a “Safety Station” where different construction safety items, including safety glasses, gloves, ear plugs, mask filtration systems and helmets, were on display to touch, try on and ask questions about.

We also had the opportunity to hone our excavator digging skills in a virtual simulator, supported by experienced OE324 operating engineers, an activity which many students approached with fervor, breaking down barriers, like initial bashfulness and long pink acrylic nails.

Zone 2

Creating custom carpets - Ferndale Carpentry Training Center
'Cookie cutter' practice on carpet pieces - Ferndale Carpentry Training Center

Carpenter trainers and apprentices in training with Ferndale's Carpentry Training Center showcased the artistic side of piecing together custom carpets flooring. A carpenter apprentice deftly demonstrated how to use an industrial-grade glue-gun-like tool to attach letters and designs to floor mats, an activity which students eagerly volunteered to try. At the end of the day, a lucky winner took home a Build It- inspired carpet mat to commemorate their journey through the showcase. As we rounded the corner to the next activity, there was a fun hammering contest that pitted high school student against a trained apprentice, where they raced to plant a large nail into a

4” x 4” block of wood. Loud but exciting!

Hammering contest against an apprentice - Ferndale Carpentry Training Center

Zone 3

OHM Drone Pilot - career of the futre!

Jupiter Aerials demo's making your own modifications to drones

Fittingly showcased in the “cloud room,” a returning demo from MAKE IT: Manufacturing in the Fall, Jupiter Aerials’ professional drone operator, Josh Humphrey, discussed different ways of using soldering and electrical connections to modify and build your own drones. He piloted a hummingbird-sized drone, which buzzed around the room as students observed in awe. There was also a civil engineer professional drone pilot, Ray, highlighting real-life examples of the ways in which drones have assisted in city planning, layouts, and film footage. As expected, their activity area elicited thoughtful questions about how to pursue a future lifestyle as a drone operator for a variety of industry sectors, of course focusing on construction at this event.


Enjoying chat-time in the ballpit that was built by last years attendees.

Dax in the Ballpit!

While moving through the different activities, some students opted to take a moment to hang out in the PxE ballpit to expound on their perspectives regarding construction and to just be a kid for a minute!

Zone 4

A 13 yr old welder demonstrates MIG seams - Welding Trainig Center

On what seemed like the chilliest Michigan winter day to date, small groups of students were led through a door to the outside into a heated tent designated for a welding demonstration. Welding magazines and Iron Man comic books were distributed as professional welder and training center operator Don Martin discussed the many uses of the welding trade. Literal sparks flew (behind a tinted protective screen, of course) as his 13-year old grandson demonstrated valuable welding skills. And by valuable, I’m not just talking about usefulness; experienced welders can yield over $100,000 in annual paychecks without the requirement of a debt-induced college degree. When I heard this, I wanted to survey the suddenly attentive group of students by asking “Who wants to make over $100,000 a year without going to college and wear this snazzy welding gear?” My own hand would have shot up in the air!

Zone 5

Joe Sullivan & Shane Sandlin get kids excited about how toilets function!

Before attending the Build It! event, I was admittedly ignorant to the intrigue of the plumbing industry. But I kid you not, this was the most attention-grabbing event of the showcase, prominently displaying a heated toilet with a built-in bidet. Students were prompted to feel the flow of water inside the (never-before used) toilet as they learned how water, pipes, and heating systems can contribute to the elegance of homes. A pipe camera simulator showed the students a sneak peak of what a day on the job could entail. Paradigm’s team included the business owner, Joe Sullivan, Ferndale High School Alum, Shane Sandlin, working almost a year as a plumber-in-training, and Liz, a journeyman plumber who manages their office in Ferndale.

Joe Scott, a journeyman electrician and trainer, demo's what the flow of electricity looks like.

In an electrifying showcase, which included a table-top Van de Graaff generator, students learned about electric charges and magnetic force. Colorful pieces of taped down streamers stuck straight up to demonstrate the flow of electric charges, followed by strands of hair on students’ heads as they felt the power of electricity by touching the Van de Graaff generator. Students also learned that if they have a knack for math, this would be the trade skill for them. Ferndale Electric has been a union contractor for 25 years and regularly employs apprentices from the IBEW’s Detroit Electrical Training Center, which is where these activity presenters were from. Students learned that the average first year salaries of apprentice electricians starts at $28 per hour, which peaked their interest right away!

Last but not least, Must Careers representatives were on hand to share information and answer questions regarding ALL of the skilled trades that students could enter immediately after high school graduation, above and beyond the activity stations at the event. Events like these inspire so many questions, even among the adults, about the skills needed for entrance into this industry as well as the pay scales and outlook of the careers; we were appreciative of this added resource!

Wind Down!

As students wrapped up their journeys through each of the 5 construction stations and returned to the ‘hello’ room, the space once again resonated with concordant chatter. Post- surveys administered, construction vests collected, lunches eaten and buses loaded, we all seemed to simultaneously let out a sigh as we reflected on a successful day. Students learned about the construction trade in a fun and hands-on way, while local construction businesses were able to speak on the importance of their transferable skills to eager young ears.

These trade skills highlighted in the showcase can generate big bucks without incurring crushing college debt. Some apprentices, such as those representing their companies at Build It: Construction!, were not much older than the students they were presenting to, and likely started their career pursuit soon after high school.

This workforce exposure is not only beneficial for businesses who are looking to peak employment interest in young students, but to students who are looking for alternative career options that don’t require a college degree-- an expense that many are unwilling or unable to afford, especially without a viable career path in mind directly after high school.

Events like Build It are generating these glimmers of feasible options to students who would otherwise be virtually unprepared to enter the workforce. Most students are bombarded with college prep, testing, and applications without weighing the other options, like construction trades, that are available to them. Hands-on career events are allowing businesses to generate awareness and curiosities in students about careers that aren’t currently at the forefront of their young minds, giving them hope for a brighter (and cheaper) career future.

What's next?

For more information about how you, your child, or your student can access resources and make the next steps in their career pursuit, visit the linked websites above and/or:

MAKE IT: Manufacturing! will be back in October! If you are a business interested in showcasing your industry to eager students from the border cities of Metro Detroit, we would love to connect!

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