By: Emily Sweeney
Family, friends and teachers go to Rome Robinson when they need something fixed.
“Oh man, people ask me all the time,” Robison said. “I’ve fixed my door, my dad’s car, windows, stuff like that.”
So it probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Robinson that he would apply for a paid summer construction internship with the Minnesota Trades Academy to gain experience in the construction trades before starting his senior year at Brooklyn Center High School, located in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.
But what might surprise everyone is that this summer internship program has had such a profound impact on Robinson that the football standout is actually considering pursuing a career in the construction trades rather than play football for one of two Division III schools that has offered him a scholarship.
It Started with Woodworking
Robinson’s story begins when he was 15 and taking a woodworking class during his freshman year at Brooklyn Center High School.
“I just thought it sounded interesting, so I tried it. But as I got into it, I was surprised to find that I really started to like it, and now I’ve done it every year of high school,” Robinson said.
And from there, Robinson took welding and other classes that fed his interest in construction and building.
Last spring, at the suggestion of one of his teachers, Robinson applied for a summer internship opportunity with the Minnesota Trades Academy.
The Minnesota Trades Academy offers two different tracks for students to learn about the construction trades through hands-on experience. Track I is a six-week introduction to construction career opportunities. Youth who participate in Track I can move the next summer onto Track II, a nine-week trade specialization course. The completion of both tracks can set a student up to launch a career in the construction industry, beginning with a registered apprenticeship with a Minnesota building trades union for those who are at least 18 years old and have earned a high school diploma or GED.
“The tools in this program aren’t new to me,” Robinson said. “We’re just learning how to use them differently and we’re working on more projects.”
Robinson’s current project is re-painting a weatherworn garage in Minneapolis.
“We’re learning a lot of new processes that I’ve never done before, such as scraping,” Robinson said. “We’re also re-building the door of this garage, it’s my first time doing a project like this. I like it a lot.”
Robinson tells his friends about the work he is doing through the Minnesota Trades Academy.
“I told my friends they need to try this out because construction is a good skill to learn,” Robinson said. “And it’s fun. Any job where you have fun makes it easy and enjoyable to come to work.”
Robinson’s mother also asks him about his construction internship experience.
“After my first few weeks, she said: ‘What’s up with the hardhat?’” Robinson said. “She kept asking about safety — you know she cares, so she wanted to know more about the jobs we’re working on and why we need to wear a hardhat.”
At the Minnesota Trade Academy internship, hardhats are part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that all interns wear at the worksite, just like professionals in the field. Interns also wear eye protection, highly visible clothing, gloves and closed-toed work shoes depending on the site.
Robinson’s post-high school plans
Robinson is still debating what he will do after high school. He wants to attend trade school but he’s also weighing whether to accept one of two Division III football scholarships for his outstanding performance as nose guard on Brooklyn Center’s high school team.
Like many high school students, Robinson isn’t quite sure if college is the best fit for him.
“I love playing football and the offers are great, but I just don’t know if college is right for me,” Robinson said. “I’m definitely a visual learner. I prefer hands-on activities and people showing me stuff rather than sitting in a classroom.”
Robinson’s hands-on experiences in woodshop and welding classes, along with his Minnesota Trades Academy internship, have shaped his career considerations.
“Between woodshop and welding, I prefer welding,” Robinson said. “Measuring is easy for me and that’s important in welding and through the Minnesota Trades Academy I have learned more about construction careers and have practiced my skills.”
Over the next year, Robinson will plan his next step.
“Right now, I think being a pipefitter apprentice would be the job that best suits me,” Robinson said.
Interested in a career in construction?
Students who would like to learn more about careers in Minnesota’s construction industry should visit ConstructionCareers.org. To learn more about the Minnesota Trades Academy and to apply for the program’s internship program for the summer of 2020, click here.
The Minnesota Trades Academy is supported through the generosity of the following organizations: the Construction Careers Foundation, Apprenticeship Coordinators Association of Minnesota (ACAM), City of Minneapolis/STEP UP Program, City of St. Paul Facilities Department, City of St. Paul/Right Track Program, City of St. Paul/HREEO, Kraus-Anderson Construction, M.A. Mortenson Co., McGough Construction Company, the Minnesota State Legislature, Minneapolis and St. Paul Building and Construction Trades, OPUS Foundation, PCL Construction, Ramsey County/U LEAD Program, Ryan Companies, Saint Paul Police Department, St. Paul Public Schools, and White Bear Lake Area Schools.