(Janesville, WI) By Nick Crow, Gazette
Parker High School senior Hunter VanZandt decided early on in high school that college wasn't for him.
VanZandt has decided he wants to be an electrician.
"I'm going to get into an electrical apprenticeship through the union after high school," he said. "College isn't for everyone. The trades are a good way to go for a lot of job opportunities."
It's students such as VanZandt that companies such as J.P. Cullen & Sons hope to reach. Cullen held its second construction career fair Thursday at its 330 E. Delavan Drive headquarters to introduce students to careers in construction.
Joe Schwengels, construction superintendent and apprenticeship committee president at J.P. Cullen, said partnering with local schools helps identify future workers in the skilled trades.
"One of the benefits (to having the career fair) is trying to get the information out to the schools so that they help promote a career in construction," he said. "We need to raise the awareness both to the schools and the parents on the opportunities that a career in construction presents. Number two is having a way to create that pipeline through working with the schools."
"With the economy improving and the construction industry growing, we're coming out of a recovery area," Schwengels said. "A lot of people have drifted away from the trades. So we're either not finding the right qualified people or enough people industry-wise."
The fair featured hands-on demonstrations in ironwork, masonry, carpentry, concrete, welding and heavy equipment, Schwengels said. It drew students from 14 school districts throughout Rock, Walworth and southern Dane counties.
"One of the things a lot of students and parents see in construction or perceive wrongly is the lack of opportunity, but in reality it's the reverse," Schwengels said.
Mike Williams, training coordinator for the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers, said his trade needs younger workers to replace the ones who retire.
"It's just trying to find the young people willing to do the physical labor," Williams said. "The millennials, I guess. There's just not a lot of guys that do it anymore."
Williams said it's important for the trades industries to engage young people.
"It's a growing system that we're needing to fill," Williams said. "I think college is great, and I have nothing against it, but I think there's been too much emphasis in the schools on it. The skilled trades are a very rewarding career, and we're seeing more and more that we're going to need the future minds starting to get an interest in it."
Joe Kruser, a Craig High School teacher, echoed those sentiments.
"We have a pretty good emphasis on the trades in our schools now, and the community is involved trying to change the perception for parents and the school system and make them realize that the trades are a good career path," Kruser said.
He said misconceptions persist that construction careers pay low wages, have poor work conditions, are for less-educated people and offer no room for advancement.
"I can get up there and talk to them about trades, but them getting information in this setting right from the source is outstanding," Kruser said. "It's good to be here to open students' eyes."