Students as young as middle school are preparing for life outside of school. That path often involves college and formal degrees, but one group of forward-minded entrepreneurs gives students more options.
Construct My Future, a week-long summer camp, is designed to allow teens to explore the many careers offered in the construction trades, many of which don’t require college education.
“A group of us in the construction industry got together and created a free summer camp for seventh and eighth graders,” said Will Blake, a founding member of Construct My Future and owner of Vesta Foundation Solutions. “We wanted to allow kids to learn about the wide spectrum of trades while making it fun.”
OEC was one of the many vendors instructing this summer’s inaugural camp. Linemen from OEC demonstrated how they safely climb poles, work on electrical lines, and taught electricity basics. In addition to learning about the electric utility field, kids had the chance to participate in the Live Line demonstration
led by Energy Efficiency Solutions Specialist, and former Journeyman Lineman, Daniel Lofland.
“This camp was a great marriage of a career fair type event mixed with some actual hands-on training like at a trade school,” Lofland said. “They were exposed to different careers but also handed tools and learned what it takes to do the work in those industries. Ours showcased the dangers our linemen work around every day and why we want the public to stay away from downed powerlines. We then strapped some hooks and a belt on some of the kids and let them try and climb a few poles.”
Students attending construction camp participated in immersive demonstrations from various vendors, each day exploring industries including carpentry, heavy machinery and HVAC, Blake said. Most presentations are hands-on, which sparks a serious interest in students.
“We were thinking we would need more video games and virtual activities to get kids excited because a lot of education these days is driven by technology,” Blake said. “But they were more interested in setting insulators on power poles than using virtual reality to repair HVAC systems.”
The tactile style of the OEC demonstration was the power behind the students’ evident interest in the field, as well as learning about utilities often taken for granted, Blake said.
“I think all of us as Americans take electricity for granted because we’re able to flip on a light switch without a thought,” Blake said, “but by getting involved with the electrical cooperative, students were able to harness up, climb poles and understand where electricity comes from and how it works. That’s not something they see in a classroom or experience on a video game or a cell phone.”
In addition to the hands-on portion, Lofland also discussed upward mobility, pay and benefits electric co-ops offer their employees.
“Rather than just teaching about the skill, OEC did a very good job expressing all the different opportunities you can have when entering this specific category,” Blake said. “That was a huge amount of value to not only us as board members, but the parents and the students.”
While college tuition prices are skyrocketing and job markets are flooded, often leaving students with few job opportunities, industries like the ones displayed at Construct My Future are ripe with opportunity.
“The fact is we have nearly 20% of our talent pool in the construction trades exiting the workforce in the next five to six years due to retirement,” Blake said. “We’ve experienced an ongoing need to bring people into our industry where there’s plenty of opportunities.”
While emphasizing career paths outside the traditional college, the camp is not discouraging anyone from attending college, Blake said. Instead, it shows students other options to explore after high school. By doing this, students can learn more about what they’re passionate about and make informed decisions about their future.
“We are not trying to discourage anyone from going to college, but rather educating them about opportunities in addition to college,” Blake said. “We’re trying to provide an open platform that allows student campers to experience it and decide on their own whether or not they want to continue down that path.”
One of the camp’s board of directors’ goals is to provide attendees with after-camp care and classes to provide licensure hours, ensuring quicker job placement and a better-educated workforce as they enter the field.
“Many folks are going back to construction or viewing construction as a reactive measure rather than a proactive measure,” Blake said. “We would rather it be a proactive choice, so it’s about these businesses uniting to create programs that allow students to make an informed choice.”
While striving towards a regular curriculum, the camp remains a free opportunity for students looking to explore career paths otherwise unknown to them. OEC and Construct My Future will continue their beneficial partnership for the foreseeable future.
“We look forward to continuing this relationship and participating in construction camp for many years,” Lofland said. “We love that we can talk a little about the trade but also drive home public safety aspects of electricity in a fun and engaging way. Seeing these kids’ wheels spinning as they think through questions about various things they have seen or encountered is always a highlight to me.”
Enrollment for next year’s camp opens in January, be sure to check their website, constructmyfutureok.org for more information at that time. This unique opportunity could spark a lifelong passion for a rewarding career in the construction industry.