White Bear Lake, Minnesota — In his free time, White Bear Lake High School graduate Nick Berends plays a variety of video games. However, he never thought the gaming skills he develops every day would be relevant to his future career path in construction.
“The first game I really enjoyed growing up was the first Mario Kart,” Berends said. “Now I like shooter games like Battlefield, but I also play games that involve exploring a new world, like Slime Rancher.”
This summer, Berends still spends his free time playing video games but he also spends 20+ hours a week exploring careers in construction with the Minnesota Trades Academy (MTA). The 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, a growing list of Minnesota school districts, and the State of Minnesota (DEED).
“Berends and 10 other students are participating in MTA’s Track 2 pathway hosted by White Bear Lake Area High School,” said Mary Stuart, associate director of the Construction Careers Foundation. “This opportunity prepares interns to select a construction career path – union apprenticeship training; construction-related post-secondary tracts; or direct entry into the construction workplace, if desired.”
Over a nine-week period, the interns visit up to 16 different apprenticeship training centers where they receive training and supervision from industry experts as they complete projects using both hand and power tools.
“Being able to visit the different trades to learn about what they do is super important,” Berends said. “Participating in hands-on activities like laying bricks or cutting metal or operating machines helped me figure out what I like to do and what things I am good at.”
Throughout the union tours, Berends discovered that his dexterity skills and ability to operate controllers while looking at a field of objects were skills used every day by operating engineers who belong to the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 49.
“I am most interested in a career with Operating Engineers Local 49,” Berends said. “We got the chance to operate the heavy machinery on site and it reminded me of the video games I play — just a lot cooler because I was interacting in a real environment.”
New Perspective on Secondary Education
Visiting different unions provided Berends with the perspective that a career in construction through union apprenticeship is just as valuable as a college education or joining the military.
“I’m a triplet and while you can tell Kyle and Jack (Berends’ brothers) and I are related, we all have different interests and skills,” Berends said. “They are interested in more mechanical work than I am. But I am interested in learning to weld and gaining skills that I can use around the house.”
Berends said his parents are supportive of his choice to pursue the construction trades and apprenticeship pathway.
“They want me to be happy and be able to take care of myself,” Berends said. “People always come to me for help with labor or fixing things, so they are not surprised that this work is interesting to me.”
Berends said he is ready to start a career in construction. His first step is getting a license this fall so he can drive himself to worksites and to the union training center to apply for an apprenticeship.
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