St. Louis Students Attend Construction Trade Expo


The Southern Illinois Builders Association recently hosted a three-day construction expo at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville, Illinois.

The 22nd Construction Careers Expo took place last month and saw student attendance from many surrounding Metro East and southern Illinois high schools.

According to reports, the Association offered information and hands-on demonstrations in 12 construction trades during the three-day expo. Although reoccurring, the event is now more important than ever.

Donna Richter, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Illinois Builders Association, shared with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that interest in going into the construction industry has been dwindling in the area. The last time the event was formally held—in 2019 as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns—only 800 students were reported to attend.

Last month, the expo saw 1,200 students.

“I think that is proof there is a definite interest in the construction trades. Their parents are telling them to look into this if they don’t want to go to a four-year university and they want to work with their hands,” Richter said.

As reported by the Institute for College Access & Success, among those who opt to go to a four-year college, six in 10 will graduate with debt. In 2019, the average student graduated owed nearly $29,000.

In addition to the need for construction workers as the industry reportedly continues to experience worker scarcity, jobs in the sector have also risen over the last decade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry has fully recovered from the recession in 2008-2009.

However, in a more recent report by the Associated Builders and Contractors, it was shared that the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) national construction unemployment rate fell 1.1% in September 2022 from a year ago, down from 4.5% to 3.4%.

While almost half of the states in the nation estimated construction unemployment rates are at or below 3%, 42 of them reported lower unemployment rates over the same period.

ABC reports that although residential construction employment has fully recovered (reporting 162,000 above pre-pandemic levels in September), nonresidential construction employment is still recording numbers below its pre-pandemic peak. For the month of September, nonresidential construction employment was 67,000 below its pre-pandemic peak.

The September 2022 national NSA construction unemployment rate of 3.4% was up 0.2% from September 2019. However, over that same period, 29 states had lower construction unemployment rates, two were unchanged and 19 states had higher rates.

With these issues in mind, reporters described the unions represented at the recent expo in St. Louis as acting somewhat competitively amongst one another for the students’ attention. As an example, the operating engineers union featured large video screens where students could try running different equipment virtually in a simulator.

While other unions were also reported to use this tactic, several trades boasted journeyman wages and shared information about their respective multiyear apprenticeships.

The painters union was also featured at the expo and took on a more unusual pitch. “It’s not very hard work, and it’s good pay,” said Steven Penland. Despite the call, Sha Schellenger, another representing painter of the union, said, “Everybody says they hate painting.”

According to an analysis by the specialized division of staffing giant PeopleReady, PeopleReady Skilled Trades, the painting industry is one of the hardest hit by worker scarcity.

Looking back at when the pandemic started in March 2020 to as far as December 2021, the division reports that four million jobs were open in key skilled trades industries—more than double the number of vacancies pre-pandemic. Today, thousands of those open positions still remain, with most of the openings found in the following niche industries:

  • Cement masons and concrete finishers;
  • Painters;
  • Roofers;
  • Electricians; and
  • First-line supervisors.

In additional data analyzed by PeopleReady Skilled Trades, 40% of the 12 million people in the skilled trades workforce are over the age of 45, with nearly half of those workers over the age of 55. While it is clear that workers are aging, or will be aging out of the field in the years to come, even fewer people are entering to replace those spots.

It is estimated that less than 9% of workers applying to these construction sectors are aged between 19-24.

Other Recent Student-Aimed Initiatives

In September, St. Louis-based construction industry workforce development initiative and consultancy ConstructReach brought more than 150 students together to learn about the construction industry at a Target remodeling project.

The “I Built This!” event took place from Sept. 14-15 in Bridgeton, Missouri.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ConstructReach has been conducting “I Built This!” events for five years. The workforce initiative was created to introduce the construction industry to a diverse, new generation.

The program also assists the industry as it continues to face an impending labor shortage crisis.

Around the same time, after receiving unanimous approval from the Charter Authority Board, Southern Nevada Trades High School (SNTHS) announced that it plans to open in the fall of 2023.

Located in Clark County, Nevada, the public school aims to prepare its students for both college and careers in the construction trades. It is reportedly basing its model on The Academy for Career Education (ACE) in Reno—a five-star high school (the highest ranking in Nevada) with an over 90% graduation rate.

The curriculum is designed so that immediately upon graduation, students can move directly into construction careers. This includes getting trade credentials, such as OSHA 10.

However, before the school officially opens, officials share that they plan on hearing from the community on other programs that might be added to the varying course options.

SNTHS notes that it has established partnerships with local industry associations and construction companies. It currently has an “opening countdown” on its website and intends to release updates on the school as they are made available.

In the spring, students participating in Mississippi State University’s architecture and building construction science departments collaborated in the PCI Foundation Studio.

According to reports, the PCI Foundation Studio was first developed in 2021 after MSU received a special four-year, $100,000 grant from the PCI Foundation in 2020 to incorporate “precast concrete into the classroom.”

After receiving the grant, MSU Architecture's Associate Professor Alexis Gregory was noted to use the money within architecture courses at the school in addition to developing the studio. At the time, MSU wrote that the funding would be used to address tectonic issues and to teach the students in both architecture and construction how to work together to better prepare them for careers in which their fields regularly collaborate.

Further, the funding aimed to create lasting relationships between the university, industry partners and the professional architecture field. Precast industry partners at the time included Jackson Precast (Jackson, Mississippi) and Tindall Corporation (Moss Point, Mississippi).

And at the beginning of the year, manufacturing company for air-powered abrasive blast equipment, Clemco Industries Corp. (Washington, Missouri), announced that it donated a blast cabinet to a high school’s welding program in Boerne, Texas.

The Pulsar Plus 55-Suction Blast Cabinet has been described as the “Ferrari of blast cabinets” by Dorman Vick, who launched the Welding Pathway program at Samuel V. Champion High School in 2004.

According to Clemco, ZERO brand Pulsar Plus Cabinets are its newest line of blasting cabinets. The line features six models, two of which are pressure-blast and four are suction-blast, equipped with 17 ergonomic and state-of-the-art features. The cabinets are all-in-one with a reclaimer, dust collector and blast system.

The students reportedly used the blast cabinet to create a sculpture of a bed of metal roses as a thank-you gift for a celebrity supporter of the Welding Pathway, including blasting mill scale and beads off test plates and welding the roses.

Other projects created over the years by the Welding Pathway participants include:

  • A mobile hunting blind for disabled U.S. Army veteran Michael Crawford, with support from the Military Warriors Support Foundation;
  • The “Big Dipper” mobile cattle-dipping station for the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • A mobile scratch-and-spray unit for the USDA;
  • A firepit for Boerne, Texas, Fire Chief Doug Meckel and Spike S. Ranch; and
  • Shooting-range targets for local YouTube influencer Matt Carriker and WWE Universal Champion Goldberg.

Tagged categories: Commercial contractors; Construction; Contractors; Economy; Education; General contractors; Good Technical Practice; Jobs; NA; North America; Painters; Painting Contractors; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Residential contractors; Roofing contractors; Subcontractors; Unions; Worker training; Workers

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