A day for constructive education

Students get chance to operate backhoes and forklifts at Try-A-Trade

lpemberton@theolympian.comMay 5, 2014 

The parking lot at New Market Skills Center in Tumwater turned into an official hard-hat area last week during the Try-A-Trade event for middle and high school students.

About 300 kids from schools in Thurston, Lewis and Mason counties attended the daylong event. It gave them a chance to operate heavy equipment such as backhoes, rollers and forklifts under close supervision by professionals, according to organizer Matt Gordon, who teaches construction trades at New Market.

They also could build birdhouses, start a sheet metal project and learn about apprenticeship programs, among other activities.

“It’s a chance to see different education,” said Britney Preslar, 17, a junior at North Thurston High School who is in New Market’s construction trades program. “You don’t always need to go to college.”

New Market held its first construction trades fair about eight years ago, Gordon said. It’s designed to give students a chance to meet and interact with workers, check out some big machines and learn what the trades have to offer, he said.

“The goal of today is (to show that) careers and jobs equal higher education,” Gordon said. “A career and higher education are the same.”

The state has about 250 apprenticeship programs, according to Peter Lahmann, chair of the Washington State Apprenticeship Coordinators Association.

Most programs require applicants to be 18 or older, have a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver’s license.

The construction industry offers a lot of job satisfaction, said Sherry Barry, a field agent and tribal liaison with the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers.

“I highly recommend it. It’s been really good to me for the last 18 years,” Barry said. “It’s not just a job, it’s a career.”

Most trades start at about $18 an hour, and offer excellent medical and retirement benefits, Lahmann said.

And now that the economy is picking up and more people have begun to retire again, construction jobs are out there, he said.

“It’s finally – for the first time in about four years – starting to creep up a little,” Lahmann said. “We’re starting to have opportunities for new people to come in.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa Pemberton

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