Recent Graduate, Immigrant explores future in engineering

By: Karin Ellefson

Recent graduate from Edison High School, Abdi Ahmed loves working with his hands and being active, but like many 18-year-olds, he is in search for an answer to a question: “What should I do with my life now?”

Originally from Ethiopia, Africa, Ahmed lived as a refugee and came to the United States with his grandmother when he was 14 years old. His four brothers and three sisters, however, still live in Africa, but his mother decided it would be best for Ahmed to move to the U.S. for better job and education opportunities.

“I had been waiting since I was born to come here [the United States], and I finally got the chance,” Ahmed said. “It is a little difficult to be away from my family, but I get to visit home a lot.”

Before coming to the United States, Ahmed didn’t know how to speak English very well. Thankfully, with classes in school and teachers who were patient and helpful, he was able to catch on quickly. Along with English, Ahmed can comfortably speak Somali, Arabic and Spanish. In fact, he is known around his neighborhood as someone to go to when you need help translating.

“People all over my hometown spoke different languages so you had to learn and try to understand what people were saying,” Ahmed said. “I think that if you can speak and read Somali, you can speak and read English easier.”

Ahmed calls his team to break for lunch. He described his first time leading a large group: “It’s a big responsibility, I always have to believe in myself and watch out for everyone.” Photo Credit:Karin Ellefson

While in school, Ahmed was involved in Somali Club, College Possible and Step-Up, all programs that helped him get to where he is today. While thinking about life after high school, the Minnesota Trades Academy caught his eye.

“I thought about being a nurse, but when I saw what the Minnesota Trade Academy had to offer, I just had to try it out,” Ahmed said.

The Minnesota Trades Academy is a paid summer construction internship experience for selected Twin Cities area high school youth. Offering two different tracks, students have the opportunity to learn about careers in the building trades. 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. Finishing up both tracks offered sets youth up for a solid start in the construction industry. An apprenticeship with one of Minnesota’s trade unions is the next step for those who are 18 years old and have completed high school.

Within Track I, there are three groups of interns, all focusing on a different trade. Ahmed’s Track I team is focusing on the carpentry aspect of construction. They have installed windows, sanded and painted surfaces and constructed their own wooden chairs.

Ahmed and his crew pose in front of their finished project. Ahmed lead the group as foreman for over a week, where he delegated tasks and enforced safety requirements for the site. Photo Credit:Emily Sweeney

Ahmed’s current project is stripping, sanding, and repainting an old garage in Minneapolis. Group lead, Philip O’Neill noticed Ahmed’s hard work and levelheaded demeanor, and gave him the responsibility of being the Foreman on the site. As foreman, Ahmed is the team’s leader. Heis in charge of making sure his nine teammates are safe and get the job done on time.

Ahmed is no stranger to hard work and creativity. As a young boy, he helped build houses, cars and different contraptions with his siblings on their farm in Ethiopia. He said any material he found could be used in his creations. At Ahmed’s hands scraps and old boxes became racecars.

“I have been creating and building for as long as I can remember,” Ahmed said. “When you are a farmer, there is no one else with you so you have to entertain yourself in the free time.”

Before joining the Minnesota Trades Academy, Ahmed had no idea how many different construction careers were out there.

Once the summer is over and the Minnesota Trades Academy has concluded, Ahmed plans to attend a two-year college and become an engineer.

“When I used to think about engineers I just thought all they did was do math,” Ahmed said. “This program [Minnesota Trades Academy] has given me so much experience and without it, I would’ve never known what type of jobs I would love or try.”

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.