Many trades represented at first-time event held by MUCA and school        districts in both Elk River and Anoka-Hennepin

by Jim Boyle


Cassi Hall, an 18-year-old Elk River High School senior, doesn’t know what she wants to do the rest of her life but thinks she might find her career by learning a trade.

That’s why the first-time Trades Show and Tell event held Sept. 27 at ERX Motor Park featured in a recent Star News article appealed to her and she decided to check it out while other classmates of hers were headed to the homecoming parade.

She wore her black senior shirt with white lettering, but no red or black face paint. She did, however, get to press her hand into some fresh cement she moved into place with the guidance of Brian Farmer, an Elk River man and apprenticeship coordinator for the cement masons of Local 633 Journeyman and Apprentice Training Center in New Brighton.

Farmer was from one of the several organizations there offering hands-on opportunities.

Hall is the kind of student that trades and manufacturers are looking for. Those who are willing to consider something other than a four-year school, and those with some motivation to check out their options. There are plenty in both the trades and manufacturing that pay well, offer good benefits and careers that will be in increasing demand as the people close to retirement age.

Hall had her game face on as she sampled various trades and learned from the professionals who have built successful careers in construction, masonry, engineering, bricklaying, iron works and driving truck or operating heavy machinery and others. There were also mechanics, electricians and more to talk to and learn from.

The event was hosted by the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association, the same group that has brought the Day of the Dozers event to ERX for seven years.

This year they partnered with the Elk River Area School District and the Anoka-Hennepin Schools in hosting the first-ever Trades Show and Tell on the day before the Day of the Dozers.

The free event offered 7th-12th grade students and their parents a chance to learn about post-graduation options and careers.

Turnout was less the organizers hoped for, but given the workforce shortage,s there seemed to be hope the event could grow over time — much like Day of the Dozers.

The students and parents who came out were greeted to a wealth of knowledge on career paths and some flavor of what some of them might offer.

They were able to connect with professionals from a variety construction industry trade groups and contractors. Some exhibits had simulators, hands-on demonstrations, or static equipment available to learn more about the skills needed.

“The people were really nice and I learned a lot,” Hall said. “I’m glad I came to this.”

Farmer promoted the training center for masons, plasterers and shop hands, and shared his passion for a career that has supported him and his wife while they raise a family of five. He was careful not to call masonry a job, but rather a career. He talked about the opportunities high school students have, the money they could make and the work that they would have to show for it after all was said and done.

He told visitors to his demonstration table the days of preaching “college and only college” are gone. He said the work masons and other trades do is always in demand, and the shortage of people to fill apprenticeship programs and the doors that open from them are growing.

“We’re starving for young people,” Farmer said.

Tom Brown, the founder of Terra Construction that got its start in 2007, had a booth there.  He said Terra has been impacted minimally to date but he can see how in 5 and 10 years the impact may be great.

Terra hires many subcontractors (union and non-union) who are affected by the lack of young and energetic people entering the trades.

“We see masonry, concrete, commercial drywall/framing, electrical, mechanical trades (plumbing & HVAC) as great opportunities for young people to enter now and be in place to be the leaders in those fields in the future,” Brown said.  

Those who were there feel they have a good message to share. Among the factors touted by MUCA for having the event were:

• A good education doesn’t always require a four-year degree.

• The average Minnesota construction worker earns over $63,000 annually.

• 53% of general contractors are looking for skilled laborers; the majority offer training.

There will be many options this month to explore manufacturing careers as its Manufacturing Month.

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