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Washington High School Senior’s Positive First Construction Experience Drives Interest in the Field

By: Emily Sweeney

St. Paul resident Kong Xiong had little experience and almost no interest in construction before this summer.

But after enrolling in Step-Up, a youth achievement and career exploration program at Washington Technology Magnet School in St Paul, Xiong, a rising senior, wanted to gain work experience and learn new skills.

That’s why he signed up for a paid summer construction internship 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 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 a high school diploma or GED.

“I’m glad I signed up, I was ready to try something new and construction was totally new to me,” Xiong said. “It’s been a good experience to find out if I like construction and building, and on top of that, I’m getting paid to learn ($12.50 or more per hour).”

The first project Xiong completed through the Minnesota Trades Academy program was building a wooden stool. Although the task seemed simple, Xiong realized how understanding math and making exact measurements are necessary to achieve the desired product.

“When the instructions say 24 inches, it better be 24 inches or it won’t look right,” Xiong said. “I was glad mine fit together but I had to pay attention to get it done right.”

Kong helps a fellow student measure window frames. Kong said his comfort and confidence with measuring came with practicing so much during his Minnesota Trades Academy internship. Photo Credit: Karin Ellefson

With a bit more practice, Xiong is growing more comfortable with his measurements. With later projects, such as framing windows and adding shingles to a shed roof, he was quick to learn and his peers felt comfortable asking him for help.

“It was easy for me to use the saw,” Xiong said. “But when it comes to measuring anything, I make sure it’s perfect and I review them before I cut.”

Through Minnesota Trades Academy, Xiong also toured engineering and construction trade sites with his fellow interns, where they had the opportunity to talk to construction professionals about their jobs. His favorite visit so far was a tour of Karges-Faulconbridge, Inc. (KFI), a process and facilities infrastructure design firm in Roseville, Minnesota.

“It was awesome and there was really cool technology there,” Xiong said. “I got to experience what types of careers are out there. I never knew so many existed in engineering and building.”

Prior to joining Minnesota Trades Academy Xiong was interested in civil engineering.

“There are so many careers in construction and the trades that have different types of engineers,” Xiong said. “I have a new perspective on how I can combine working with my hands and do math and engineering together.”

Xiong is undecided about what he will pursue after high school but through the Minnesota Trades Academy, he already has ample experience in the construction field.

Kong and a site lead partner to cut wood for window frames. The Minnesota Trades Academy teaches interns at all skill levels how to measure and use tools properly and safely. Photo Credit: Karin Ellefson

“It’s nice just to have experience already,” Xiong said. “When I was younger, I didn’t like building things at all, so I would have never done construction or signed up for a program like this but I am glad I did though. I’ve learned a lot.”

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.