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Whitmer joins thousands of students to promote jobs in construction, skilled trades in Howell Twp.

Whitmer joins thousands of students to promote jobs in construction, skilled trades in Howell Twp.

Jennifer Timar, Livingston Daily

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and thousands students from across the state attended an event Thursday in Howell Township focused on attracting more young people to jobs in the skilled trades.

Students from about 70 schools gathered at Operating Engineers 324 Construction Career Center near Howell for a two-day Construction Career Days event.

They had opportunities to work cranes and other construction machinery, pour concrete, practice carpentry and have many other hands-on experiences, as well as learn about apprenticeship and other educational opportunities.

“We know you can make a good living in the trades,” Whitmer told reporters.

“We know there is integrity, prosperity in many lines of work in the state, but too few of our young people even understand what a sheet metal worker does or what an operating engineer does,” she said. “So, to come out here to see it, to be a part of it, to operate one of these machines, I think is incredibly important to our economy, and most importantly, making sure everyone has a path to something they are going to enjoy and make a good living doing.”

Whitmer tried her hand at operating a computer-simulated excavator before jumping behind the seat of a real digger and a real crane.

Jaya Bailey, a sophomore at Academy West High School near Flint, said the event opened her eyes to new possibilities.

“At first I wasn’t thinking about a job in the skilled trades, but now, thinking about it,” Bailey said.

She still plans to go to a traditional college but said she found a new understanding of what other opportunities are out there.

She said she was surprised to find out many workers in the skilled trades make good incomes.

“I didn’t know it paid that much,” she said.

Jordan Crawford, a Ferndale High School junior, does not think college is for him, he said.

“I think people would rather do this than go to college for four years,” Crawford said. “It’s a good start and you can always come back to go to school.”

This summer, Julius Draughan, a junior at Detroit’s Osborn High School, plans to get a job in construction. He is in a Jobs for America’s Graduates program through his school. He said people teach him and other students in the program skilled trades.

“A lot of people don’t have money for college, but in the skilled trades you get paid to learn,” Draughan said. “You can keep your money instead of going into debt.”

There is a worker shortage in skilled trades, according to Dan McKernan of Operating Engineers 324.

“There are one if not two generations of people that didn’t go into skilled trades,” McKernan said. “During the recession, construction slowed down, so people didn’t go into the trades.”

He said apprenticeships and other educational opportunities give up-and-coming workers a chance to get paid while learning skills, and many programs offer credits that can be transferred to traditional colleges.

On the upside, he said this year’s Construction Career Days event attracted “the most students ever.”

An estimated 3,800 high school and middle school students attended the Howell Township event, up from around 2,000 last year.

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Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Timar at 517-548-7148 or at Follow her on Facebook @Jennifer.Timar99 and Twitter @JenTimar99.