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Michigan Construction Career Days showcases exciting careers through hands-on experience to thousands of Michigan students

Michigan Construction Career Days showcases exciting careers through hands-on experience to thousands of Michigan students

HOWELL – The Michigan Apprenticeship Steering Committee, Inc. (MASCI) welcomed around 4,000 Michigan students from more than 100 schools across Michigan to the 2023 Michigan Construction Career Days last week. Students and youth were introduced to exciting careers in the construction industry and skilled trades and engaged in hands-on training experiences.

The free event was open to students in 7th-12th grades, instructors, school administrators and others.

“For the 15th year, MASCI is excited to host Construction Career Days with all our partners and welcome students to get a hands-on experience to see all the great career opportunities in the construction industry,” Operating Engineers 324 Labor-Management Executive Director and MASCI Chairman Lee Graham said. “Michigan Construction Career Days allows us to connect with the students that will make up the next workforce generation, interact with them, and hopefully inspire them to a great future career in the Construction industry.”

Contractors, labor organizations, instructors, colleges, trade groups, associations, and educators were on hand at the event to talk about the construction industry with students, with students enjoying hands-on experiences with simulators and actual equipment.

Getting students interested in careers in construction is what drives Nicole Blackmon, Oakland Schools School-to-Career Coordinator, who brought 50 students with her to Construction Career Days.

“It’s amazing to see all of the…equipment that is used, and the students getting the (experience),” Blackmon said. “We tell students, do something that you’re going to be passionate about. And they can get a solid education in career technical education that sets them up for great jobs and careers.”

“The thing that interests me the most is being outside and working with different people and they all seem to work hard and enjoy their job,” said Linden High School Senior Brady Makela, who listed the excavators as his favorite hands-on heavy equipment and who hopes to work in construction after graduation.

Makela encouraged other schools to put Construction Career Days on their calendar: “Career days is important because a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to do this in their backyard. Having a place they can go do this once a year is amazing. It really shows people there really are other job opportunities beside sitting in an office.”

Gracie Garchow, 19, agreed. After graduating high school in 2022, Garchow now works at Miller Pipeline – alongside her father, Chad. Following in her father’s footsteps, Garchow started as laborer before becoming a drill operator and then a foreman leading a drill team.

“It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” Garchow said. “I love going to work every day. The guys and the ladies that we work with are amazing. You never do the same thing every day.”

Those long-term, multi-year projects include one Miller Pipeline – the father-daughter team of Gracie and Chad Garchow’s company – is currently working on in southeast Michigan: The company is less than halfway through one 40-year-long project.

Because of this persistent and ongoing demand, Josh Sargent, vice president of construction for Miller Pipeline’s Great Lakes region, is always keeping an eye out for new talent to hire.

“We need great people that are honest and who appreciate a fair day’s work and a fair day’s pay,” Sargent said. “Sweat equity is the critical ROI. You don’t have to come out of college with $100,000 worth of debt. You can start in the trades and return all your investment much quicker.”

Career and Technical Education programs at schools throughout Michigan aren’t the only source for skilled trades apprentices. The military is another. That’s where Sam Dougherty comes in.

As the Michigan rep for Helmets to Hardhats, Dougherty works with skilled trades organizations like Operating Engineers 324, and career development agencies at the state and federal levels to help veterans transition from the military to civilian life by connecting them with construction careers.

“Veterans are used to structure, they’re on time, they report to work, they work hard, they have pride in what they do for their work,” Dougherty said. “You can count on veterans. They’re ready to serve our country by building this nation.”

A Marine himself, Dougherty reminded students who want to join the military to consider careers in construction after their service. By enrolling in a union skilled trade apprenticeship program after leaving military service, they can get paid, build a career without college debt, and qualify for benefits under the GI Bill.

The Michigan Apprenticeship Steering Committee, Inc (MASCI) hosted the 15th annual Michigan Construction Career Days at the 560-acre Operating Engineers 324 Construction Career Center in Howell, Michigan.  The event is one of the largest hands-on Construction career events in the Midwest, with over 4,000 students from over 100 schools registered to attend.  This year boasted a record number of sponsors and participants as well, with demonstrations and presenters from dozens of trade unions, contractors, professional organizations, government departments, colleges, and outreach groups.