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BIA looks to help build future for students
October 31, 2018

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Construction of homes and office buildings in Lee County has been soaring in recent years. And it might have been even better if there had been enough skilled laborers and tradesmen to fill those positions.

The Lee County Building Industry Association has experienced the trend of younger people moving away from trades, and, on Wednesday, held an inaugural event at the Lee Civic Center to encourage those for whom college may not be an option, or who want to enter the workforce out of high school into careers that pay well and for where there is a need.

About 500 students from 20 area schools came for the Lee County Build My Future event, where dozens of companies came together to encourage them to consider a career in the building industry, whether as a plumber, roofer, electrician, welder or the myriad of possibilities.

Richard Durling, president of the BIA, said many people forego the trades because they believe that college is the natural progression and that not going to college does not meet some people's definition of success.

"We needed to find a way of introducing the industry to young adults who have an interest in trades and who don't want to go to college to become an accountant or lawyer," Durling said. "There are opportunities to make a great living and have a successful career."

The BIA came together with the Lee County School Board after years of trying to make such an event possible, which was commemorated with a ribbon-cutting to kick things off.

Among those there was Bill Johnson Jr. of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, who said there is a profound shortage of skilled labor and that events such as this can bring in a new generation of workers.

"There is an alternative to college with these skilled labor jobs, and if they do go in they can make a good living with the skills they have," Johnson said. "With the lack of skilled labor, we've seen projects are taking longer to complete. During the boom you could get a house finished in six months. Now it could take anywhere from eight to 14 months."

Valerie Clark, career specialist at Fort Myers Technical College, said it brought the carpentry program and promoted the rest of the careers in the industry.

"We want the high school students to know we're here for dual-enrollment and post-secondary once they graduate and see all the companies they can work for once they graduate," Clark said.

Rawlins Dowden, of Cape Coral and an FMTC student, said he got interested in carpentry after leaving the military, which has helped give him an edge.

"I thought offering my services as a carpenter to potential investors would be a way to further my marketability," Dowden said. "I've always liked the work and being at the fair I've already been offered positions."

Holly Ades, who teaches Microsoft to students at Riverdale High School, said many of these careers are now relying on computer skills, creating great opportunities.

"This is what kids should be going to and seeing real-life applications and what can do and make those connections," Ades said. "All companies use software programs to develop what their men are going to create. Software creates the blueprints."

Joy Marks, assistant principal at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, brought some middle-school aged kids to the event.

"I wanted them to experience the building industry and the possible careers and options they have. We want to see how trade schools and colleges intertwine as they get older," Marks said. "The kids have talked about struggles in school and that this gives them possibilities beyond high school."

Students got to see, as well as do, many of the things the pros do. Robert Kiss, a senior at Cypress Lake High School, got to help put together a garage door.

"I like working on this kind of stuff. I was on a mission trip with my church and had fun doing it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity," Kiss said. "I'm keeping my options open, including college."

Francisco Rios, a freshman at Cypress Lake, said he wants the build houses of his own, and getting to try things hands on looked good to him.

"I'm looking to get into a trade, I don't know which on yet. I just like to build things and seeing some pieces of wood turn into a huge house," Rios said. "That's an accomplishment to me."

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