‘Build-U’ offers teens a look into trade industry in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A trades program geared to teens is gaining traction in Springfield and could help address a shortage in the construction industry.

The Springfield Contractors Association (SCA) has assembled a new program called Build-U, allowing 30 area high school students the opportunity to take part in hands-on learning labs while also visiting various job sites throughout the week-long program.

Megan Herzog, SCA executive director, says students have been able to explore different career paths after visiting jails, arenas, shopping centers, schools and a quarry. 

Build-U is in its third year of serving local teenagers and provides an array of trades to learn from. Herzog told The Heartlander participants will experience an “equipment rodeo” to see how different machines operate. Applicants have tried their hand at working with sheet metal, brick laying, electricity, roofing, welding, carpentry, plumbing and more. 

The program shows teens the beginning, middle and final phases of construction projects, providing a well-rounded experience. SCA has discussed adding more availability for those interested in the program, but nothing is set in concrete. Herzog says keeping things small improves one-on-one instruction and ensures safety measures. 

“We want to make sure every person has people that are able to walk them through the process,” Herzog said. “Because we are doing hands-on activities, safety is the number one concern for anything related to the industry.”

Herzog says local building trades are seeing a decrease in workers, with several experienced construction specialists headed for retirement. 

“Over the past couple of generations we had such a focus on (being) college bound, not doing as much of the trade type of work. A lot of schools were not having vo-tech courses and shop classes. We really lost a lot of people that were entering the industry there for quite a while. During the recession, we lost even more workers.” 

Construction companies are raising wages, bringing interest back to the industry.

Herzog says construction is often viewed as a dirty, low-paying job, and stresses that this kind of rhetoric is false. Herzog believes most construction workers are paid a fair wage. She adds that students are taking to the program and are utilizing what they have learned about the industry.

“The students are extremely excited. We are constantly making changes because we want this program to be the best it can be. We already have stories of some of these students joining programs. They are making the connections and following up to truly build careers afterwards.”

Build-U is a free program available to those aged 16 to 19 who must provide their own transportation to and from the program. Students are given a $10 gas card to safeguard their return each day. Participants are provided with drinks, snacks, lunch and protective equipment such as safety glasses, hard hats, a safety vest and ear plugs.

One lucky participant with perfect attendance will win a $100 Amazon gift card at the end of the week.

Those interested in Build-U can sign up here.

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