The rodeo was in town this week, but not an ordinary one - instead of bulls, there were mechanical beasts.
The eighth annual Construction Pro Rodeo, coordinated by Associated Builders and Contractors of Connecticut, was held Tuesday and Wednesday in Wallingford. The two-day career expo brought together more than 1,000 Connecticut students to sample various trades.
The event showcased the construction industry, allowing high school juniors and seniors a truly hands-on experience.
“They’re allowed to get their hands dirty trying their hands at different trades and learn a little bit about construction,” said event organizer Chris Fryxell, the president of the Associated Builders & Contractors Connecticut Chapter.
Forty-six schools participated, experiencing a wide variety of demonstrations and activities. Trades ranged from electrical to plumbing and included excavating and what is becoming an area of need, welding.
“(Welding) is a skill set that is lacking right now,” explained David Schill, vice president of Mohawk Construction.
Schill says there are many Connecticut companies offering opportunity to welders.
“You have Electric Boat. You have the bridge industry, structural steel industry, fabricating industry,” he said, “A lot of different industries that really need this skill set and a lot of kids aren’t going into this.”
For teachers involved with their students, this event offered experience not easily available in a school setting.
“Something like this is invaluable to my students because they get out here, they actually use the equipment,” said George Phelan, a tech education teacher at Wolcott High School. “They see they’re producing something. It gains their interest and that’s what we’re here for.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average age of construction workers is 42 years old. As workers age out, there’s a growing void, and events such as this could help fill.
“We have a massive shortage of skilled craftsman in this country right now,” explained Fryxell. “The average age of the construction worker is increasing and we’re not getting enough young people to fill in those holes that are being left.”
The average age of students attending was approximately 17 to 18 years old.
For the students involved it was a valuable educational experience which was also fun, especially for those who learned to operate heavy equipment.
“To be honest it felt like I was playing one of those big video games or something like that or one of those big claw games as well,” said Wolcott High student Anthony Lawrence.
All students involved received hard hats and safety goggles, provided by numerous Connecticut construction companies sponsoring the event.
These companies also loaned many excavators and other heavy equipment, giving up the use of some valuable resources. All with the sole purpose of giving Connecticut high school students a viable alternative to consider upon graduation.