Derek Bair wanted to make a point to his students, but he needed a little help from his friends first. Bair, who teaches Industrial Technology at Newton High School wanted to show his students that you don’t have to go to college to find a career. To drive home his point, Bair organized a construction equipment expo at the high school. Intended as a “career day” for students who aren’t necessarily interested in college, more than 10 local companies participated in the event.
“We want to get students interested in these careers and get local vendors some new employees,” Bair said.
On Friday afternoon, the east parking lot at Newton High School looked like ground zero for large-scale construction project, with heavy equipment stacked in rows. Students had a chance to test out everything from skid loaders to a giant crane. This is the second year that Bair’s hosted the event, and while local employers were hesitant to participate last year, they’ve turned out in force this year. Bair said he thinks it’s because these companies have seen the value of recruiting high school kids as they look to replenish their rapidly dwindling ranks.
Ron Cox, the human resources manager at Halbrook Excavating, based in Ankeny said he believes careers in the trades have fallen by the wayside. Participating in events like the one at Newton High School on Friday gives him a chance to let high school students know there’s a good job waiting for them in the heavy equipment industry if they’re interested. An ongoing construction boom in the Des Moines metro area means there’s plenty of work, but a shortage of qualified employees.
“We’re hiring, we’ve had a hard time keeping up ourselves and finding employees,” Cox said. “We want to let them know that there’s a career here for them, they can make a decent living and earn while they learn.”
Getting paid to learn is one of the hallmarks of the industry, Cox said, and it’s something that distinguishes the industry from college, where many students rack up massive amounts of debt before graduating. Starting construction wages range from $18-20 an hour, and previous experience isn’t a requirement.
David Halbrook, the vice president of Halbrook Excavating, said he’s just hoping to pass on the same passion for the industry that he and his coworkers have. After a short stint in college, Halbrook said he found a home in the construction industry, and he’s hoping to share his story with others.
“There’s a stigma that it’s below going to college, but college isn’t for everyone,” Halbrook said. “There’s huge potential here, you can get your foot in the door in a hurry.”
As he walked through the parking lot Friday afternoon, NHS sophomore Hunter Northey was impressed by all of the machinery on display.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we get to do this, not every school gets to do something like this,” Northey said.
Northey, an industrial technology student at NHS, said he’s already considering a career outside of college when he graduates. His mother is a welder and former welding instructor at DMACC in Ankeny, and he’s planning on a career in the industry himself. Unlike many students, he said he hasn’t faced pressure to attend college instead of pursuing a career in the trade industry, his parents have left the door open for Northey to choose his own career after high school. His mother’s only educational requirement is one that Northey fully expect to meet.
“It’s really up to me, but they did tell me that they expect me to finish high school,” Northey said.
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