Construction Career Day inspires area students

Karla Valle admitted she wasn’t really interested in a career in construction. This was simply a chance to skip class.

The senior from Southeast Career Technical Academy was among more than 1,000 high school students roaming around the Nationwide Garage Friday morning at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Construction Career Day.

It’s put on by the Las Vegas chapter of Associated General Contractors and Nevada Contractors Association to introduce students to construction trades, management, engineering, architecture and related fields.

More than 40 Las Vegas contractors and construction companies set up interactive demonstrations that allowed students to try their hand at virtual welding, sit in the cabin of a crane, make plaster molds and operate power tools.

“I was (interested) at first, but the thing I’m more interested in now is engineering. So if anything, I’d go into engineering, either medical or automotive,” said Valle, who carries a 3.5 grade-point average at her school and plans to attend University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Although Nevada lost an estimated 100,000 construction jobs during the recession, the AGC is projecting demand for 1 million new jobs in the construction industry nationwide by 2016.

The average age of workers in the skilled trades is 48, and the increase in retiring baby boomers has created a dire need for new workers, said Don Dyer, a senior project manager for McCarthy Building who’s in his late 50s.

“It’s age-related. I’m looking for my replacement. Don’t tell my boss,” said Dyer, who helped organize the third biannual Construction Career Day. “I’ve been in the business for 35 years and now it’s time to tell these kids there’s a need for everyone from college-educated managers and designers to guys digging that trench. A lot of McCarthy managers started in trades. Our chief operating officer started as a carpenter.”

McCarthy appeared to have the most popular booth, swarmed by 30 to 40 kids at a time.

What’s the big attraction? Not the literature about apprenticeship programs. It’s the assembly line for marshmallow guns. Students sliced through 3,000 linear feet of PVC pipe to make their guns and turned from shooting miniature marshmallows at a target to firing on each other, occasionally nailing bystanders in the crossfire.

“I’d hate to be the bus driver on the ride home,” Dyer said.

Or the janitor who has to clean the sticky mess left on the garage floor.

Corbin Thomson, a sophomore at Centennial High School, said he’s interested in welding.

“Our school doesn’t offer it, but I came here and they had an electronic welder,” he said. “It was really cool. It gave you a feel for what you’re doing.”

Scott Robertson, service sales manager for Helix Electric, was at the previous Construction Career Day and said the kids seemed more interested this year. He was showing an electrical circuit with a number of three-way and four-way switches controlling two light bulbs.

“Every one of them seemed genuinely interested in learning how the circuit works,” he said. “These guys are ambitious. We don’t put this (circuit board) out front because I don’t want to waste my time if they’re not interested. I’ve had kids here all morning. They’ll spend 10 or 15 minutes here.”

Construction offers high-paying jobs well above median income. Apprentice electricians can make up to $25 an hour on some jobs, and journeyman wages are about $50 an hour.

“I kind of want to work with circuits or computers,” said Jarin Moss, sophomore at East Career and Technical Academy. “I like this electric circuit and over at the military tent, they use bags of water to heat up food. That was pretty neat.”

“If it’s not electrical, go after what you want,” Robertson told a young man who said he’s more interested in automotive.

At the UNLV School of Engineering booth, graduate student Andrew Cross watched kids having a great time with their marshmallow guns. About 30 students had signed a sheet for more information on engineering degrees.

“The idea is just to get kids interested and give them an idea of what engineering is about,” he said. “They seem to love the marshmallow guns. The interest here is a little more muted, but the ones that stopped by seem to be curious.”

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.

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