June 2019—More than 3,800 high school and middle school students across Michigan attended a remarkable demonstration of construction equipment, May 1–2, that showcased the extraordinary opportunities that crane and rigging, as well as related trades, can offer.
The two-day Michigan Construction Career Days, held annually in the spring at IUOE Local 324’s Howell MI training center, featured education, hands-on activities, computer simulations, equipment demonstrations, and informational booths about careers in the skilled trades. Students even had the opportunity to try their hand at operating different types of heavy equipment, including cranes, excavators, bulldozers, jackhammers, and trucks—with guidance and close supervision by experienced operators.
Construction Career Days featured education, hands-on activities, computer simulations, equipment demonstrations, and informational booths about careers in the skilled trades.
Tara Whittington, Manager of Marketing and Customer Service at NCCCO which helped to sponsor the event, engaged students in the “how, what, where, when, and why” of getting started in the crane industry, how to get certified, the importance of safety, and the excellent earning potential that a career as a crane operator can bring.
“It’s exciting watching students use real tools, real equipment, and real techniques side-by-side with real industry professionals—and then seeing the light bulb go off in their heads that a career in the construction industry can be rewarding, challenging, and even fun,” said Whittington. “I explain that today’s shortage of skilled laborers ensures that they will be able to get a job and make good money.”
In addition to the Operating Engineers, a diverse range of other skilled trades unions co-hosted the career event, including the United Association, Finishing Trades Institute, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Sheet Metal Workers, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, and others.
Making a Good Living
Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who attended the event, observed that too few young people even understand what an operating engineer does or what a sheet metal worker does. “To come out here to see it, to be a part of it, to operate one of these machines, I think is incredibly important to making sure everyone has a path to something they are going to enjoy and make a good living doing,” she said. “Whether it’s the roads we drive on, the homes we live in, or the bridges we cross, the people in the building trades literally keep Michigan running,” said Lee Graham, Director of Labor Management for Operating Engineers 324. “There are career opportunities here that have great pay, excellent benefits, and rewarding work,” he said. “When students see the great things we are accomplishing, we watch how excited they get at the idea of being part of it. It’s our job to show them how and help them on their journey.”
The event also showed students that soft skills such as communication and management are critical to construction success. One exercise divided a team of students into owner, project manager, specialty contractor, and craftworker and required them to work together to construct a project using Lego bricks.