Karen Student from St. Paul’s Harding Senior High School on Track for a Career in Construction  

By: Emily Sweeney

Satlwe Moo found the perfect summer job. A job where he could learn something new and work on his physical health. All while getting paid for it.

Starting his senior year at Harding High School this fall, Moo, a resident of St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood is optimistic about his future – even more so after interning with the Minnesota Trades Academy, where he learned about the construction trades.

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 onto Track II, a nine-week trade specialization course the following summer. 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.

Participating in the Minnesota Trades Academy’s Track I program, gave Moo everything he needed – the perfect summer job.

Satlwe Moo never wants to stop learning. “I love learning new things,” Moo said. “I am always ready for a challenge.” Photo Credit: Karin Ellefson

“In my free time, I usually run around the park and during the school year I do distance running and track to stay healthy,” Moo said.

“I like challenges and I always like to work on myself,” he added. “In my interview to be accepted to the Minnesota Trades Academy, I just told them I wanted to learn more about myself and what I want to do.”

As an 18-year-old, Moo has already experienced many challenges in life that most people will never encounter.

He never went to middle school in Minnesota, or even in the United States. Moo and his grandmother immigrated to Minnesota from Thailand when he was 14 years old. Moo is Karen and he did not know English when he arrived in the states. On top of that, he started high school right away.

Karen is a term used to describe an ethnic minority of about 5 to 7 million people who live in Myanmar who have been involved in a 70-year armed struggle with the government of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) in Southeast Asia. The conflict is considered one of the oldest civil wars – the Karen people have been fighting for an independent country since 149. Over the years, many Karen people have been dislocated to neighboring Thailand in refugee camps.

“We decided to come to Minnesota because my mom felt like it was a healthy and good place to raise children,” Moo said. “It is also nice because I have cousins that live here.”

As you might imagine, Moo has experienced a great deal of change over the past few years in his adopted new country – from meeting new friends, to learning a new language, to getting used to Minnesota’s weird weather.

“I got here and felt like I didn’t know anything,” Moo said. “The weather here is so different and people go about their day different. It took a long time for me to understand everything.”

At the Minnesota Trades Academy, Moo works in a team with about 10 other interns and this opportunity gives him a place to practice English among his friends and peers.

Moo measures a window one last time before sealing it. Moo said his experience with the Minnesota Trades Academy made him more confident in speaking English. Photo Credit: Karin Ellefson

“My family and friends would say I am really talkative in my language of Karen,” Moo said. “I want to speak English sometimes but it’s hard for me. If I spoke English the same way I spoke Karen, I would be really chatty.”

But Moo also knows that while he sometimes can’t find the right words in English, he can lead others by example through his hard work and attention to detail.

“At Minnesota Trades Academy I can show people I am good at measuring,” Moo said. “I love fractions and I can do them fast, so I get things built very quickly.”

His favorite project so far was shingling and framing windows on a solar shed.

“I loved finishing it and seeing it look good,” Moo said. “When I was young in Thailand, I helped adults carry the bamboo and wood we used to build houses and it felt good to be a part of building something.”

Moo sees purpose and knowledge in his internship with the Minnesota Trades Academy.

“I am learning something that I can use,” Moo said. “After high school I want to work in construction.”

Moo’s interest in using tools and his perseverance in learning more about hands-on careers inspired him to sign up for an engineering class at Harding Senior High School this fall.

“I am so excited for that class,” Moo said. “Last year, I took an automotive class and I had never worked with cars before but I liked using the tools to open different parts of cars.”

Moo has already recommended the Minnesota Trades Academy to many of his friends.
“It’s going really good for me so I told them to just try it and gain some experience,” Moo said. “I get paid here, too and I make good money.”

After high school, Moo plans to attend a trade school and then go into a career in construction.

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.