A Bright Future

Build My Future event surpasses expectations.

The lack of young people entering the skilled trades is not a new dilemma. It’s one the Greater Des Moines Home Builders Association (HBA) has been seeking to address for years.

Since 2019, the Build My Future event has been a key part of those efforts. This year’s turnout not only surpassed expectations but offers real encouragement for the future of the industry. “We were shooting for 4,000 attendees,” says Brandon Patterson of Workforce Development and Iowa Skilled Trades. “We ended up with 5,200 registered on the day of the event, representing over 120 schools and organizations from across the state.”

Not only has the number of attendees grown exponentially since 2019, but the number of exhibitors and volunteers continues to grow as well. According to HBA Executive Officer Dan Knoup, “We blew past our goal, but we haven’t even reached all our primary targets yet. There are so many potential exhibitors and industry segments we haven’t even reached yet.”

That rapid growth resulted in expanding the exhibit space this year to include a second building in addition to more outdoor exhibits and activities. “We had so many exhibitors and attendees last year that we knew if we were going to continue expanding, we had to add more square footage,” Patterson says. “There was no room to serve lunch to 1,000 people at a time if we stuck to one building. So we had exhibits in both the Varied Industries Building and the 4-H Building with outdoor exhibits set up between the two for more activities.”

This year’s new exhibit partners included RJ Lawn and Landscape, Microsoft, and GoServ Global/Sukup Manufacturing.

Paul van Gorkom, Executive Director of GoServ Global, says, “We didn’t really know what to expect that day, but it’s an impressive event.” GoServ, which assists with disaster relief and housing needs around the world, brought one of Sukup’s Safe T Homes®. Students built and disassembled it throughout the day.

Other popular exhibits included Murphy Tower Service’s rope climb; construction projects for Habitat for Humanity, led by volunteers from Beisser Lumber at the HBA booth; and the welding trailer, manned by members of Plumbers & Steamfitters Union Local 33.

Numerous community college trade programs, apprenticeship programs, and military branches were represented, including the Army National Guard’s massive exhibit that took up multiple booth spaces.

“We continue to add more career pathways every year,” Patterson says. “We had more agriculture, manufacturing, and tech represented this year than in previous years.”

Knoup says, “There were four Build My Future events across the state this year, but each one has a slightly different focus.” Earlier in the year, events were held in the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Cedar Rapids.

“Our intent has always been to take a more nondenominational approach,” Knoup says. “We want to show students the huge variety of possibilities out there. We want to show them everything and not focus on any one area.”

Patterson says, “Because of that, we keep adding to the variety of exhibitors. This year we had more groups representing health care, law enforcement, IT. The Sioux City event takes a similar approach. It doubled in size this year, too. One of the other Iowa events is geared toward middle schoolers specifically; the other is more industry-segment specific.”

Another highlight of this year’s event was Signing Day, where students signed commitments for apprenticeship and trade programs. “We hold Signing Day events throughout the year,” Patterson says. “We’ve done this at each Build My Future event so far, but this year it was more of a coordinated promotion. Students who are pursuing careers in the trades and their employers should be getting the same publicity and recognition that athletes do when they sign.”

Knoup says, “That was one of the big highlights of this year’s event for me. It was great to have the Governor’s press corps present for that and to really celebrate those students. We want parents as well as students to see the advantages their kids receive pursuing careers in these industries.”

Although organizers have not tracked specific numbers following the event in the past, Patterson says that’s one element they continue to develop. Eventually, the organizers hope to be able to track which exhibits are drawing which students, whether exhibitors are drawing applicants as a result of the event, and more.“This year we added a new function with a QR code app,” says Patterson. “We had 3,600 attendees scan that. For those who used it, we can see where they went and what their interests were.”

Feedback like that will help in planning next year’s event. Some of the perennially popular exhibits, like the welding booth, continue to fine-tune their own approach.“They doubled the number of welded eagles since last year,” Patterson says. “We reorganized the flow of traffic this year to cut down on the lines and distribute attendance in each building, and that seemed to work out really well.”

It took nearly 200 volunteers, plus exhibitor teams, to accomplish this year’s Build My Future career day. Knoup says that’s a “heavy lift” that takes some serious dedication, not just from the HBA board and members.

Patterson says, “It’s a lot of hours, a lot of time, and it’s not free for us. We couldn’t do this without our financial partners and all the people who volunteer. The more exhibitors who participate, the more companies who participate in the Signing Day, the more excitement we see in the students and teachers who attend.”

“After lunch that day, I was walking from the 4-H Building to the Varied Industries Building,” Knoup says. “I looked around, and kids were waiting in line to take part in the outdoor exhibits. It was about 35 degrees, sleet was coming down sideways in that wind, and they were still excited to be there. That tells me that we’re doing something right.”

If this year’s event was any indication, young people in Iowa are starting to get the message that a future in the trades is worth pursuing.