High schoolers try out skilled building and construction trades

LAKE VIEW, N.Y. (WIVB) – The growing construction industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers, but the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council is working to change that.

It’s holding its 11th annual Western New York Construction Career Days event at the Operating Engineers Local 17 training center in Lake View this week.

More than 1,300 high school juniors and seniors are coming out on Thursday and Friday for a unique opportunity to explore different career paths in these fields. “It’s really about the kids getting some hands on experience with the different trades,” said James Smolinski, Jr., the administrative manager for the Operating Engineers Training Center.  “A lot of them don’t know what the different trades do and specifically the different ways they work together.”

During Construction Career Days, the students have the chance to check out a wide range of trades, including bricklaying, roofing, painting, plastering, concrete pouring, welding, plumbing, and more.

Every station offers a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with everyone from a carpenter to an electrical worker, and each one offers a one-of-a-kind experience doing everything from rappelling with the Ironworkers to running big equipment with the Operating Engineers.

“I find it fun to run them and be able to move giant things around,” St. Francis High School senior Jesse Keicher told News 4.

“It’s definitely a great thing to have all the options here,” agreed another St. Francis High School senior, Eric Campanella.

The students are closely supervised by current and retired union members representing each field in the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council.

For many of the students, the first attempts at the activities aren’t always very successful, but the mentors from the unions have a lot of experience teaching, and they have the patience and passion needed to help get the students on a potential path to a skilled trades career.

News 4’s Katie Alexander got to try out some of the activities for herself during Wake Up Wednesday morning. Watch the videos below for our full coverage.

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Retired Journeyman Roofer Kenneth Lee told News 4 it’s very rewarding to pass his skills along to the next generation. “They’re green. They really don’t know what they’re doing. A lot of these kids have never even seen this stuff before,” he said.

There is a serious need for young people to learn these skills now.

“A lot of guys in the field are Baby Boomers,” explained WNY Construction Career Days committee chair Gary Bernardo, “and with a 17 percent projected job growth in the construction industry, we need people.”

Career Days organizers are hoping to get more people into these fields through events like this, as they introduce young people to the different career options and show them what it takes to get started as an apprentice.

“It’s a good career path. You can learn a lot,” said Orchard Park High School senior Dillon Donovan. “They make good money, so I think it’s a good choice.”

Students from 30 Western New York high schools are attending this year’s Career Days event.

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