Build My Future event continues to grow awareness of the skilled trades.
A PBS program a few years ago described the skilled trades situation as a “cultural rebuild” after half a century of urging young people to pursue four-year degrees as the only path to financial stability.
Today we not only have an overabundance of overeducated but unskilled workers, we have skeletal vocational programs and factories and trades struggling to fill a wealth of openings.
The growth of the Alliance for the Skilled Trades’ Build My Future event is testament to this need.
First held in 2019, Build My Future offers high school students across the state the opportunity to learn more about the different skilled trades and the careers available. Last year’s event was canceled just weeks before its scheduled date and was reworked as a virtual event. This made the 2021 Build My Future day at the Iowa State Fairgrounds highly anticipated by all involved.
“We had over 2,800 students attend from more than 75 schools,” says organizer Brandon Patterson of the Greater Des Moines Home Builders Association. “That involved more than 100 volunteers and 65 exhibitors. We filled the building and the parking lot, too, with exhibits and hands-on activities.”
As before, this year’s event highlights were those that are most interactive—welding, heavy equipment, and masonry. New exhibits introduced attendees to even more fields, from law enforcement and the military to court reporting and health care.
“We not only included residential and commercial construction, but we also added hospitality, health care, trucking, law enforcement, military, and emergency services, all programs that do not require a four-year degree,” Patterson says.
To highlight the opportunities available, this year’s event included a Skilled Trades Signing Day with Klein Tool. “Klein hosted a signing day for students making the commitment to go into the trades next year. Governor Kim Reynolds was on hand to sign the commitment certificates and to participate in some of the hands-on activities throughout the hall,” says Patterson.
Feedback from the first Build My Future event led to other activities throughout the year, he adds, not only to maintain contact with participants but to provide ongoing educational resources. “We started Build University, which offers virtual classroom programs twice a month,” he explains. “One is a panel and the other is a jobsite or shop tour. Each month, we focus on a specific trade so that participants can get a closer look at the different options out there.”
Despite the increasing demand for workforce in the trades, Patterson says there aren’t enough opportunities for students to experience those career options ahead of time. The Alliance for the Skilled Trades was established to fill that gap. The Build My Future events are one of many tools the Alliance has put into practice in the past several years.
“Each year, Build My Future gets bigger and better,” he says. “We were so disappointed to have to cancel the in-person event last year. But we posted videos every hour throughout that day so people who had registered could still get a taste of what the event would have been.”
That approach was so successful, Iowa City opted to hold a Build My Future day as a virtual event this year as well. Sioux City chose to postpone its event until October in order to host it in-person.
“We already have exhibitors signing up for next year and sponsors lining up to participate, too,” Patterson says. “And we have ideas for expanding the event and adding more career path options like we did this year.”
After the 2019 event, Patterson says 14 students from Johnston alone were placed in apprentice or trade programs. Several attendees from this year’s event have already lined up employment or summer internships.
Patterson says, “That’s one of the things we’re developing for future events—a way to accurately track different statistics, like how many people stop at each booth, whom the exhibitors should follow up with, and who gets lined up with internships or apprentice programs.”
It may have taken half a century to ingrain the idea that college was the only path to success, but efforts like Build My Future are changing that perspective in a fraction of the time.