Building A Bridge

Inaugural Build My Future event connects
students and the trades.

In the past two years several organizations across Iowa have taken an active role in bridging the gap between the construction trades and the next generation of skilled workers. Groups such as Iowa Skilled Trades and the Home Builders Association of Des Moines have teamed up with educators, employers, and other trade associations to help young people see the career potential in the construction trades.

Last month’s inaugural Build My Future event was the latest project in this effort.

Brandon Patterson of the Home Builders Association of Des Moines, who was one of the driving forces behind last year’s Skilled Trades Event with Mike Rowe, was integral in organizing this event, too, along with an army of volunteers.

Melisa Cox, Partnership & Publications Manager for the Home Builders Association of Des Moines, says, “We keep hearing about the skilled trades gap, but we’re not hearing a lot about how we’re going to close it and find the workforce to fill these jobs.”

Build My Future brings those two groups together—the employers, trade associations, and unions with the students who can fill those jobs.

The original program began a few years ago in Missouri, which was dealing with a similar skilled trades shortage. Organizers put together a committee and a few thousand dollars and planned the first Build My Future day so that young people interested in the construction trades could test-drive careers to learn more about the industry.

The first year brought 800 students to the event. Interest in the concept spread to the point that the Build My Future Collaborative was born to help other states organize their own events.

“Right after the Mike Rowe event, a group of us from the HBA went down to Springfield, Missouri, to check out its Build My Future event,” Patterson says. “It was the second year, and attendance more than doubled, with over 2,000 students participating.” Patterson says the Iowa team knew immediately it wanted to organize a similar event in Iowa. And the Build My Future project was born.

“We want to include everyone—trades, military, colleges, and training programs—so students and educators know what all the options are. DMACC joined this year. Next year we’d like to see more post-high school programs represented, as well as all four branches of the military,” Patterson says.

One military branch represented at this first event, the National Guard, is making plans to increase its presence at next year’s Build My Future day. Patterson says the Guard has discussed setting up its obstacle course outside the venue to give participants a taste of National Guard training.

IBEW Local 347 prepared for 1,000 students over the course of the day and saw at least that many visitors at its booth. “We knew we wanted to participate as soon as we heard about the event,” says Scott Farnsworth, Assistant Business Manager for the IBEW 347. “It gave us a chance to highlight what electricians do and show high school students the careers available without going to college.”

The union was one of more than 50 vendors that set up booths at the Iowa State Fairgrounds Varied Industries Building to meet with students from nearly 50 schools across the state. A team of 75 volunteers manned registration tables, served lunch, and provided assistance throughout the day.

“Attendance was free for every student and educator,” Patterson says. “And everyone got a free Carhartt t-shirt. All the protective gear needed for the hands-on activities was provided, too.”

Participants went home with information, experience, and even some giveaways. “The plumbers and steamfitters booth had around 1,000 eagles the kids could weld together themselves and take home. Metro Heating and Cooling had another hands-on takeaway, and so did a ton of other booths,” Patterson says.

In all, the day included more than 55 hands-on activities, including the construction of two playhouses and two Habitat for Humanity sheds. Organizers also gave away $115,000 in partnership funds and $4,000 in tools donated by Acme & DeWalt Tools. Drawings were held for VISA gift cards. Two students (one male and one female) will each receive a $1,000 Build My Future scholarship to be presented at the Doug Mayo Golf Outing in June.

The planning committee has already begun discussing next year’s Build My Future day, with more booths, more takeaways, and more interactive opportunities. Farnsworth says the IBEW has plans for a takeaway project for next year as well.

“I’d like to see more technology and advanced manufacturing represented. The opportunities in aviation, drones, automotive crossover—these are industries we need to include, too,” Patterson says.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, both Patterson and Cox say. “We had one of the students find those that planned the event to say thank you,” Cox says. “He just signed on with Missouri Valley JATC to be a lineman and was able to show his friends more about what that career looked like.”

Schools continue to reach out to the planning team, thanking them for the opportunity and asking for details about next year’s event, which is set for April 15, 2020.

“Even before the day started, people were telling us it should be even bigger,” Patterson says. “We had such great support across the board from people in the trades, from the State. Even the governor got involved. Everything ran really smoothly, and we have a lot of ideas to make next year’s even better.”

Learn More. To see highlights from the day or to get involved in the 2020 Build My Future event, view the video at