Each May, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) partners with labor organizations, trade groups, contractors, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), and the Black Caucus Foundation to provide students around the region with opportunities to learn about construction.
Hands-on opportunities include driving excavators, hammering contests, drilling concrete, operating equipment with remote controls, and brick laying. The annual Construction Science Expo is more than just a field trip, it is the first step in a potential career journey.
The expo took place at the Michigan Science Center last month, and about 1,200 students from Wayne County schools learned from construction professionals about the academic and personal skills needed for success in construction. This industry has many current and projected openings as a result of major infrastructure and development projects taking place in Southeast Michigan, including the Hudson’s Site development, improvements to I-75, the new Gordie Howe Bridge, and the renovation of Ford’s Michigan Central Station.
The SEMCOG/MAC STEM Careers and Skilled Trades initiative identified career exposure, which happens at events like this Expo, as critical to helping students think about potential professions and help to identify career and education pathways to meet their goals.
Going deeper to explore opportunities
Many of the event’s sponsors have programs that build on the one-day experience and prepare students for career success by focusing on work ethic, judgment, and academic as well as practical experience.
Robert Davis, Senior Advisor to MDOT’s Metro Region office says, “Connecting with middle and high school students today is a business imperative for MDOT because they will make up our future workforce.” MDOT also provides career exposure and development through its nine-week Youth Development and Mentoring Program every summer. About 150 high school and college students from Southeast Michigan participate in this full- time, paid program where they learn all about MDOT operations. This includes education on safety, CPR, OSHA, professional development, and soft skills. Participants also receive mentoring, career readiness training, and practical experience with beautification and landscaping projects.
Operating Engineers 324 (OE324) is on the forefront of educating youth about the benefits of careers in the skilled trades, including: diverse work environments, opportunities to work on some of the major construction projects in the city and region, good wages, and job security. Lee Graham, Executive Director of OE324 Labor Management Education Committee, says that the Expo helps connect the next generation of skilled professionals with those fields and career opportunities. OE324 also participates in the Detroit Workforce of the Future, a pre-apprenticeship program for 26 students from several Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) high schools that received a Going PRO grant from Michigan’s Talent Investment Agency. The class meets every Friday at the Operating Engineers Detroit training facility for academic training, an introduction to the construction industry, safety, and presentation and interview skills, followed by six weeks of paid work with one of eight different construction companies including Barton Malow and Cadillac Asphalt.
The Black Caucus Foundation has several programs to prepare youth for workplace and college success. These include the sixteen-week school-based Navigation to Success program which works with 800 Wayne County students each year to make positive decisions and pledge to be drug free.
While construction may not be for every student, events like the Construction Career Expo give students an opportunity to try out some of the tools of the trade and hear from professionals in the field. The more exposure students have to a wide range of careers, the more likely they can make educated decisions about what they want to do in the future and ensure that they identify and pursue appropriate education and training pathways that will help them work towards their career goals.