Annual skilled trades event provides hands-on learning
Business industry leaders and students from across central Iowa are transforming the Iowa State Fairgrounds into a career exploration center today as they gather for Des Moines’ annual Build My Future event. More than 2,500 high school and junior high students from nearly 80 Iowa schools are attending the interactive event to gain valuable insight into potential careers in skilled trades.
Led by Iowa Skilled Trades – a team of industry professionals that provide initiatives, education and awareness on skilled trades work – and supported by partnerships with several area businesses and stakeholders, Build My Future provides students with real-life, hands-on activities that can give a taste of different skilled trades occupations. Along with these activities, the event also gives students plentiful opportunities to ask questions and make important connections with experts working in various career fields that are in high demand.
“This is different from a typical career fair or job fair. It’s not just pushing paper or a sales pitch,” said Brandon Patterson, workforce development manager at the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines and Iowa Skilled Trades. “For students, they can actually see the business or career pathway and can also talk to the people who will be helpful when looking for a job in the future. For industries, this also opens communication for them with the next generation of the workforce.”
This year, Build My Future is offering additional career fields to explore. The expanded career pathways line-up includes businesses from manufacturing, commercial and residential construction, restaurant, culinary and hospitality, automotive and mechanic, law enforcement, emergency services and military, health care, trucking and logistics, information technology and energy. Students can roll up their sleeves and experience each of these job fields through interactive simulations such as test driving heavy equipment and CDL (commercial driver’s license) vehicles and operating welding equipment. Other demonstrations include hands-on experiences with mini excavators, running a trial event for a restaurant, sampling manufacturing activities and even using a harness to hoist oneself to the ceiling.
“Students rarely have the opportunity to actually know what trades and other related industries really are,” said Kristy Volesky, consultant at the Iowa Department of Education, which is a sponsor of Build My Future. “The activity part is such an important piece of the event. How can someone know they like welding if they don’t really know what that is? This event provides a sample of several career paths.”
Build My Future aligns with Future Ready Iowa’s goal of having 70 percent of Iowans with education or training beyond high school by 2025. Both Build My Future and Future Ready Iowa seek to ensure that the workforce has the skills and education needed for Iowa’s jobs.
Two other Build My Future events are planned for this year. An all-virtual event near Cedar Rapids and Iowa City for seventh and eighth graders across the state is set for April 27. An additional hands-on learning session for high school students is scheduled for Oct. 19 in Sioux City.
“It definitely feels good to be back and hold this event,” Patterson said. “And we look forward to adding more career paths for next year.”