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Minnesota Trades Academy Participant Returns for a Second Summer of Construction Career Exploration

White Bear Lake, Minn. — White Bear Lake Area Public School senior Abigail Lillo loves taking on a challenge. A naturally inquisitive personality, Lillo always welcomes the chance to learn something new.

A standout student, Lillo enters her senior year with few classes left to take but a lot of ideas about what her future will look like.

In her free time, Abigail Lillo is passionate about creating artwork. She’s received statewide recognition for some of her projects. PC: Emily Sweeney

“Senior year I’m most looking forward to unlocking new electives, like the final automotive courses,” Lillo said. “I was running out of options after I had taken all of the small engines, technology and construction courses.”

Lillo describes herself as an energetic personality and prefers classes that allow her to build, create and work with others.

“Sometimes I’m loud but I’m just excited; I love to lighten the mood of a room,” Lillo said. “I’ve never been afraid to try something new and I think that’s why I have been involved with so many of the activities middle school and high school had to offer. I did track and field, show choir and participated in newspaper.”

Summer Jobs and Future Plans

As junior-year summer approached, Lillo knew how she wanted to spend her time.

“I work year-round at a restaurant in downtown White Bear, but I made sure my schedule this summer would be flexible around my internship with the Minnesota Trades Academy,” Lillo said.

Through her internship, Lillo spends 20 hours a week with the White Bear Track 2 Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA) team, where she explores careers in construction and visits union training centers.

The MTA paid skills internship is one of many programs organized by the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit supported by trade unions, construction companies, the State of Minnesota (DEED), and a growing list of Minnesota school districts. Construction Careers Foundation creates pathways for young people throughout Minnesota to connect with apprenticeship opportunities in Minnesota’s construction trades.

“I guess you could say I’m back for more,” Lillo said. “I participated in MTA last summer too but during the pandemic my experience was totally different than this year.”

Last year, Lillo worked on a variety of group projects with her MTA peers, but they were masked the entire day and followed social distancing precautions. Also, the training centers that interns usually tour had different or disrupted tour times because of the pandemic.

“This year we not only toured the unions, but training centers, too,” Lillo said. “I loved last years’ experience, it made me really consider the trades as my future career path. This year, I’m taking time to talk with apprentices and educators and decide what trade appeals to me most.”

Lillo added that her parents have been supportive of her initiative to explore careers in construction, and they believe the apprenticeship pathway supports her active lifestyle.

“I have a few carpenters in my family,” Lillo said. “My dad is super outspoken in his support for me. More women are entering the trades; He sees I’m passionate about this work and he says he can’t wait for me to pick my career and get my training education paid for by a union.”

Construction Courses Should Be Essential Courses

As Lillo grew more excited about what her future could look like in the trades, she reflected on how MTA and her high school automotive and shop courses prepared her for this route.

“I moved around a lot growing up, from California to Oklahoma and most recently, Wisconsin,” Lillo said. “You don’t realize how lucky you have it with schools that host construction programs and courses. In my last school we didn’t have any electives to explore like this — then I joined MTA and I know so much more about the trades —from what they do, to how they are different. I welded this summer and operated a crane – that’s not something normal 17-year-olds get to experience.”

Lillo added that reenrolling in MTA for a second year has given her clarity about what she wants her future after high school to look like.

“I know I love being a part of a team and doing hands on work,” Lillo said. “There’s no way I can work in an office sitting for a long time. A construction apprenticeship is higher education because I am learning skills for my career, and they will pay for me to get the training I need.”

For more information on the Minnesota Trades Academy visit the Program page on ConstructionCareers.org. To read more Rock-Solid Success Stories like Lillo’s click here.