Hands On the Future

Hands On the Future

Students check out rebar work at the Iron Workers Local 395 display.

When you hear people talking about raising a child, that phrase “it takes a village” gets tossed around a lot, but you never hear that phrase being used when a young person is attempting to choose a career path. Recently, an interesting collaboration in Northwest Indiana set out to change that notion completely, bringing multiple organizations together to show young people the value of a career they can earn in the regional building trades.

It’s no secret the construction industry is hurting for workers, both in Indiana and on the national level. What’s less widely known, though, is the industry has a truly wide range of career options, and almost all of them can offer high-quality livelihoods. The challenge has been, in recent years anyway, getting high-quality applicants through the door.

The IBEW Local 697 and Local 531 demonstrated electronic component instillations.

To address the issue, the NWI Workforce Board and the Construction Advancement Foundation of NWI (CAF) have started a new annual tradition. Going several steps further than your average career fair, the newly-developed Construction & Skilled Trades Day enabled 14 different local labor unions to showcase what they do, who they are, what they value, and what kind of futures they create to more than 950 local students and members of the public.

The NWI Workforce Board worked to invite over 23 high schools and other programs to attend, and the CAF coordinated the trade organizations. The event was held at the Lake County Fairgrounds.

“Our goal is to change the mindset about construction, so these young people will know all of their options. We want their teachers and career counselors to know that these are high-demand, high-wage jobs and right now they need workers and young people to apply,” said Barb Grimsgard, the event’s coordinator on behalf of the NWI Workforce Board.

“Our contractors are having trouble finding quality applicants to fill their open positions, and a big part of this event is intended to bring everyone together to build those connections and, in turn, build brighter futures,” said Kevin Comerford, director of professional development with CAF.

Members of Plumbers Local 210 showed students how to solder.

Dale Newlin, area apprenticeship coordinator with the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKORCC), explained the event gave his organization the opportunity to detail all of the aspects of the work journeymen carpenters conduct. Carpenters can work on any aspect of a building from the foundation to a roof, involving many types of wood, plastic, fiberglass, or drywall materials. Also, students in the IKORCC apprenticeship program all graduate with an associate degree in applied sciences – a far cry from the perception of simply swinging a hammer for a living.

“Our industry is vast,” Newlin said, “And we’re here to share our passion with the next generation. Many of the kids don’t actually understand what carpenters do in our region, so we’re here to share it with them.”

Many of the local union apprenticeship programs brought with them engaging and interactive displays and demonstrations for the young attendees to experiment with. Sheet Metal Workers Local 20, for example, had various kinds of metal components for students to try working with. Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 4 had a demonstration that allowed students to mix mortar and work with bricks. Others had digital simulators, pipe bending, introductory welding, iron working, and much more.

Members of the Painters and Allied Trades District Council 91 show off a paint gun that shoots with a pressure of 20,000 lbs. per square inch.

“Our goal is for the kids to understand there are other pathways for their future besides college,” said Matt Valant of the Electricians Local 697. “Also, we want them to know how to apply, what they’ll need to apply, and what they can be doing now to prepare them for a career in the trades later.”

Rich Gamblin, apprenticeship coordinator with Iron Workers Local 395, said, “We hope the kids leave today knowing they can make a great living with a tool belt on. There’s a lot you can learn in the trades, and it can take you very far.”

“Our journeymen make 65 percent more when they start than most college graduates make,” said Robert Baugh, director of training with the Finishing Trades Institute of District Council 91. “It’s time to stop looking down on the trades. If you have a trade, no matter what kind, you’ll never go hungry.”

Area educators that attended the event seemed to truly take the message to heart on behalf of their students – which will be essential for helping the construction industry encourage young people to join.

“It was really important for our kids to get a hands-on experience with these trades, and it’s fantastic to have all of them in the same place,” said Michelle Udchitz, counselor with Griffith Public Schools. “Sometimes, the kids need to see it to get it, and this is a great opportunity.”

Selene Giron, counselor with Whiting High School, said, “Other programs like this we’ve seen haven’t been so effective. To have all of these industrial options in one place where the kids can get hands-on, as opposed to just having someone come to our school and speak to them, is a great way to engage them and get them interested.”

The ingenuity behind this event is a great way to begin directly addressing the workforce needs of the NWI building trades. Plans are in place to make the Construction & Skilled Trades Day an annual event moving forward, involving even more schools and greater numbers of attendees in the coming years.


Unions and Organizations that Participated in the Construction & Skilled Trades Day

  • Painters and Allied Trades District Council 91
  • Technical Engineering Division – UA Local 130
  • Heat and Frost Insulators Local 17
  • Plumbers Local 210
  • Iron Workers Local 395
  • Operating Engineers Local 150
  • Teamsters Local 142
  • Roofers and Waterproofers Local 26
  • Sheet Metal Workers Local 20
  • Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Indiana/Kentucky Local 4
  • Pipefitters Local 597
  • Indiana-Kentucky-Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKORCC)
  • Laborers Local 41 and Local 81
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 697 and Local 531
  • The Indiana Plan



Captions for main photo above: Students learn about mortar and bricklaying with members of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Indiana/Kentucky Local 4.