WARREN, Ohio – Kwame Adams, a sixth grader at Lincoln PK-8 School, is familiar with skilled trades. His uncle is a plumber and works in construction.
On Tuesday, Adams learned about those trades and more during the Mini Skilled Trades Expo at Warren G. Harding High School
Some 360 sixth-grade students from the Warren City School District met with trades workers to discuss career options. The two-day event introduced students to plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, welding, carpentry and bricklaying.
The students broke off into groups, rotating from station to station. Each trade provided knowledge or an exercise to help explain their respective fields. The carpenters let the students try on a harness full of equipment, the welders took them inside a welding booth and the electricians showed how magnets affect light emitted from a light bulb.
While Adams has some experience in plumbing, he was also drawn to welding. He says welding or plumbing could be a career if his dream of playing professional sports is unsuccessful. Adams plays football, basketball and baseball.
“[Welding and plumbing] really helps you build a house, put more roofs over peoples’ heads and it’s just really helpful and gets you money,” Adams said.
Elaina Bydos, from Lincoln PK-8 School, was also interested in welding. It was her first time seeing the trade in person and she would consider the craft in the future.
“I liked when they cut the stuff,” Bydos said. “And we got to wear the helmets and see how [welders] could carve into things.”
The event was hosted by Warren City Schools in collaboration with the Mahoning County Educational Service Center and the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Schools attending sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday include Lincoln, Willard PK-8, Jefferson PK-8 and McGuffey PK-8.
Gary Hartman, the association services director for the Builders Association, said students already have “preconceived notions or opinions” regarding the trades by the time they reach high school.
“So introducing them at a much earlier age, say the 6th grade level, allows them to explore some of their options without already putting them in that box where they’re going to a postsecondary school or doing something different,” Hartman said.
A larger expo similar to the two-day event was held last September at the Canfield Fairgrounds. The inaugural Mahoning Valley Skilled Trades Expo brought high school students from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio, as well as Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania. It was organized in partnership between The Builders, The Western Reserve Building Trades and the Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana Educational Service Centers.
The idea behind these events is to area students interested in careers in the trades, particularly with local employers.
Jill Mayfield, Mahoning County ESC career counselor, says the trades will be short a million workers over the next three to five years. The ESC decided to host the event in Warren because “the college-bound rate isn’t as high as some other schools,” she said.
“Obviously all kids aren’t college bound,” Mayfield said. “I think parents and school districts are starting to realize that and I think the trades are so prominent now and they’re in demand.”
Larry McQuillan, joint apprenticeship training committee coordinator for Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Local #33, said the trades had to evolve with a new generation entering the workforce. He said introducing them to the trades early in students’ education helps break the stigma surrounding the skilled trades.
“We make as much or more than a college graduate,” McQuillan said. “And we have a skill that can never be taken away from us. No matter what happens, you can go anywhere in the country and do this.”
Pictured above: Zavierian Taff, sixth grader at Willard PK-8 School, learns to lay brick during the Mini Skilled Trades Expo at Warren G. Harding High School.