With social distancing and health safety precautions in mind, the South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp in Mankato, provided individualized hands-on experiences for youth to gain exposure to careers in the construction trades and learn about union apprenticeship training opportunities.

The South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp, conducted recently in Mankato, Minnesota, gave young people a leg up when it came to exploring and pursuing a career in construction. Through a variety of hands-on activities, students practiced construction trades skills, networked with construction professionals and obtained resources to jumpstart a long-term career in Minnesota’s construction industry.

“South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp is a pilot program that provides educational and experiential opportunities for young adults to pursue careers in the building and construction trades,” said Heather Gleason, South Central WorkForce Council Assistant Director. “We’re thrilled to introduce this event to high school students from the Mankato Area Public School District and surrounding communities and with the goal of sparking interest and supporting young people pursuing careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.”

A growing number of high school students are interested in starting a career immediately out of high school instead of pursuing college, so Gleason and the South Central WorkForce Council, partnered with Minnesota’s building trade unions, Mankato Area Public Schools, South Central Service Cooperative and the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit, to increase awareness about good-paying, highly satisfying careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.

From painters and drywall finishers to laborers and glaziers, the two-week camp highlighted nine construction trades. Participants were mentored by construction professionals who directed interactive hands-on activities and helped students practice and refine skills that will prepare them for a construction apprenticeship.

Students watch as Laborers Local 563 Apprenticeship Coordinator Gary Larsen demonstrates how to use a diamond saw to cut concrete during the South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp. Students in the camp got to try the saw and other construction tools during the two-week camp. Photo Credit: Pat Christman, The Free Press

“I started my career right out of high school because I was fortunate enough to have a father who worked in construction, so I knew about the pay and benefits,” said Stacey Karels, President of the Mankato Building & Construction Trades Council and business agent representing LiUNA Local 563 (Laborers’ Union). “Making events like this happen is an important step to educating youth on what career paths are out there and helping them differentiate between the trades to find an interest that appeals to them.”

“Building those contacts early — that’s critical to the future of our workforce and it helps youth understand what’s out there, especially if college or the military is not for them and they want to get paid to learn a skill,” Karels added.

Rising from the Foundation of a Twin Cities Construction Program

The South Central Construction Trades Boot Camp was modeled after the Minnesota Trades Academy program, a paid summer construction internship experience for selected Twin Cities area high school youth sponsored by the Construction Careers Foundation. The foundation leads a state-wide program called Construction Career Pathways that is designed to make young people, their parents and Minnesota educators aware of career opportunities in Minnesota’s construction industry.

“We’ve received tremendous support from our construction trades partners and the Construction Career Foundation,” Gleason said. “We look forward to strengthening these partnerships and to offer more opportunities to young people in southern Minnesota to learn about careers in construction.”

Participating students left camp with resources to learn more about careers in construction, such as the ConstructionCareers.org website, which has information and union training center contacts for more than 30 specific trades in Minnesota, and the Construction Trades mobile career-hub app.

“We’re passionate about providing young people in our community with the most updated career and apprenticeship resources they need to succeed,” Gleason said. “We look forward to educating more students about the benefits of apprenticeship and how learning specialized trade skills can result in long-term careers with great benefits such as retirement and healthcare.”