Senior at Irondale High School is not Afraid to Try New Things

By: Amanda Pedersen

Being curious and open to learning new things that challenge you is a skill that many people wish they had.

Most people would say that the butterfly is the hardest stroke in swimming. Some can practice for years without perfecting it.

Gary Woodward, 17, is someone who is not afraid to work hard and try new things.

Woodward decided to go out for swimming his sophomore year at Irondale high school. Even though he had never swam competitively before, he was surprised to see that he excelled at butterfly.

Woodward now swims butterfly, the 50 free, and the medley relay.

Woodward also decided to try out automotive classes at his high school. Being a car owner, he thought it would be helpful to know how to fix his car when something went wrong.

Along with automotive classes, he added woodshop and welding classes to his schedule.

“I like welding the most out of all of them, it was fun and different,” Woodward said.

This past summer, Woodward decided to try something new and further explore his construction side by interning with the Minnesota Trades Academy.

Introduction to Construction

He decided to apply for the Minnesota Trades Academy Track II internship after hearing about it from a career counselor and his automotive teacher at school.

“I’ve always enjoyed building things. If Legos count, I have built a ton of things,” Woodward said.

The Minnesota Trades Academy offers two different tracks for students to learn about the construction trades through hands-on experience during the summer months. 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 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 18 and have earned a high school diploma or GED.

“I grew up around tools, so coming into this program was like second nature to me,” Woodward recalled. “I also have Attention-Deficit Disorder so classrooms aren’t where I learn the best. I need to be up and doing something otherwise I am easily distracted.”

For Woodward, using tools and problem solving is second nature to him. Growing up, Woodward helped his father with various projects in and around their home. Now he dreams of designing and building his own house someday. (Photo Credit: Gary Woodward)

Woodward had an easy time transitioning to the world of construction at the Minnesota Trades Academy due to his past experiences with construction. His father actually worked as a sign installer for a number of years through Local 10.

“We would always build things together, like our deck in the backyard, birdhouses, and a lot of the shelves and furniture in our house,” Woodward recalled. “My father even put the wooden floor in our house.”

His parents were extremely supportive of him signing up for the Minnesota Trades Academy. “Everyday they always ask what we are working on or what we are doing,” Woodward said.

While participating in the Minnesota Trades Academy, interns construct mini projects to learn if they might want to pursue a construction trades apprenticeship after high school.

“We got to test out cranes, drive the big haul trucks, skid steers, the backhoes, and the rollers,” said Woodward. “If I decided to go into construction as a career, I would definitely want to focus on heavy machinery.”

In addition, interns visit up to 16 different apprenticeship-training centers where they receive training and supervision from construction pros.

“I really liked the heavy equipment operators of Local 49,” said Woodward. “I’m really big into video games and operating the heavy machinery felt a lot like a video game to me.”

Plans After High School

Woodward had previously thought about going to college and getting his generals finished or possibly joining the military after high school.

“I’ve told my friends about this program and they are supportive and happy for me,” said Woodward. “A lot of my friends don’t really know what they want to do yet, so this is me taking time to see what I might want to do in the future.”

But, after Woodward’s time interning at the Minnesota Trades Academy, he is now considering
a career in construction after he completes his senior year.

“The program even changed my mind about some trades I thought I wanted to go into,” said Woodward. “I used to think I wanted to be an electrician, but I realized I wasn’t interested when I saw the hands-on work with the different electrical options and how you have to study wires and codes.”

Interest in a career in construction?

“This program has definitely furthered my interest in construction and helped me narrow down what I want to do after high school,” Woodward said.

In his free time, Woodward loves nature and being outside, especially spending time on the lake.

“Success to me would be building or owning my own home on a lake and being able to support myself and my family someday,” said Woodward. “A career in construction could give me the opportunity to do that.”

To learn more about how the Minnesota Trades Academy can help you learn more about careers in construction, visit ConstructionCareers.org.