Summer Camp and Training Day Introduce Texas Youth to Construction Careers

Texas middle-school students Zara Willard and Nicholas John received hands-on building experience and inspiration to pursue engineering and construction careers at TRF Camp Build in Austin last summer. The free five-day program for grade 6-8 students, also held in Sherman, Texas, and in three other U.S. cities, was sponsored by Rosendin Electric, the fifth-largest U.S. specialty firm on ENR’s Top Specialty Contractors list and the largest electrical firm in the Texas-Louisiana market.

The Rosendin Foundation and other industry representatives hosted the Austin event, introducing students to basic project skills on the jobsite and in the office. Willard (in the photo above) used power tools; observed heavy machinery in use; poured concrete; and learned safety skills. Her peer John built a stepping stone; soldered a copper stand; bent conduit; and used virtual reality to estimate a build. Both gained insight on how to pursue a construction-related career.

“TRF Camp Build opened up my eyes to the many different forms of engineering and construction jobs that are available,” said Willard, now a high school freshman in Austin. “I really enjoy working with my hands and building things, and the program got me even more interested in pursuing ... a career.”

John, from Houston, agreed. “Before TRF Camp Build, I thought computer work is what interested me because I recently built a gaming computer,” he said. “But through [the camp], I realized that designing and building is what fascinated me about computers. Engineering could be a good fit for me, and I liked how the camp made the concept of engineering tangible.” Milwaukee Tool and DeWalt/StanleyBlack&Decker gifted participants with safety equipment and a set of tools as a reminder to keep an industry career in mind.

TRF Camp Build events also were held from May to July in Phoenix; Anaheim, Calif.; and Charlotte, N.C. The Anaheim program attracted 71 students, split equally by gender.

“In this way, all campers are able see that both boys and girls can use tools to build and be successful in construction and engineering,” said Jolsna Thomas, foundation president.

Skanska USA in San Antonio recently hosted 40 students from the city’s Construction Careers Academy High School to be introduced to industry careers and to experience the application of skills learned in class. The daylong event included a panel discussion with the firm’s employees, and those of other firms, as well as a hospital expansion project tour. “With the industry growing in Texas, the need for more skilled labor and trades creates limitless opportunities,” said Ryan Aalsma, a Skanska executive vice president and general manager in San Antonio, adding that many schools removing vocational training in favor of courses for college-bound students worsens the existing skills shortfall.

The call for a new generation of skilled workers is long-standing in Texas and nationwide. Texas A&M University says the state will be short 51,000 engineers by 2028. Too little exposure to construction skills at an early age is a key factor, said Aalsma. “Construction and engineering don’t do that great in letting young folks know what kind of opportunities there are,” he said.