Carnival lets students lay their hands on construction trades

EVERETT — Catherine Larson came to the Construction Carnival on Thursday all alone, schlepping a tote bag and a mission.

She wanted to find out how to become a carpenter.

The Redmond High School sophomore doesn’t attend a school that sent large groups of students to Western Washington Sheet Metal in south Everett for the event Thursday. She came on her own, taking the day off school after finding out about the Construction Carnival on the Master Builders Association Web site.

She’s known for a year that she wants to become carpenter when she graduates in a few years, but said her school doesn’t offer construction classes.

Still, she has a clearer goal than many of the other 400 students who attended the career event Thursday.

“I’m definitely going to apprentice,” Larson said. “I’m not going to go to a two-year college or anything.”

Letting kids know that apprenticing is an option was one goal of the Construction Carnival, an annual event where high school students get to hammer sheet metal, cut tile, frame a house and operate bulldozer simulators.

The so-called carnival is sponsored by several agencies and companies, including the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County. It was scheduled for earlier this year, but a fire at Sno-Isle Technical Center delayed the event by six months.

The carnival is meant to counter one unsettling trend that goes largely undetected except by union leaders and shop teachers: Kids just aren’t very interested in going into the trades.

But with Snohomish County unemployment hovering around 10 percent, there’s a subtle shift in students’ perception, some trade-group representatives said Thursday.

“They’re pretty down about the job potential when they get out of school,” said Theresa Hausmann, a representative of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Washington.

And though some construction companies and unions have slowed apprentice hiring, Hausmann said her organization is continues to look for high school graduates with diplomas or GEDs who earned a C or better in their math classes.

“We are still placing people in jobs despite what the economy is doing,” she said.

There’s good money in many construction-oriented professions; a journeyman electrician can make about $37 an hour, according to union figures.

Still, some teens couldn’t see themselves donning a hard hat — even after hammering tool boxes out of sheet metal and gobbling up free hotdogs.

“It was fun, but I don’t plan on doing anything in construction,” said Samantha Elerding, a student at the Center for Career Alternatives in Everett. She said she doesn’t mind the noise or the dust, but wants to go into criminal justice instead.

“It’s not something I would go into as a career,” agreed Justine Coleman, also a student at the Center for Career Alternatives. “I want to be a fashion designer.”

Still, amid the pounding noises and hotdog smells, were breakthrough moments.

One teenage girl with a blond ponytail and red nail polish clapped her hands and squealed after her third attempt to move dirt with a bulldozer simulator proved successful.

“That was easy,” she said to a friend. “I could so do this,”

Read Amy Rolph’s small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or arolph@heraldnet.com.

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