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Tradespeople make their case for construction careers

Damien Autio of Floodwood High School uses a welding simulator to weld a a metal beam while being coached by Ben Pratt, with the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, during Tuesday’s trade event. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)1 / 4
Daytonna Klenek, who attends Denfeld High School, dons a structural belt and experiences for herself what it’s like to walk a beam like an ironworker. She’s assisted by Russ Whitehouse, a retired Duluth ironworker. Daytonna was one of hundreds of students participating in the Construct Tomorrow trade event in Paulucci Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Tuesday. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)2 / 4
Jamey Newport (from left), Desiray Green and Cassie Lingle, all of Moose Lake High School, try out their wiring skills as they attach modular leads to a network cable. They participated in Construct Tomorrow on Tuesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, where representatives from the construction trades offered hands-on experiences in a variety of trades. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)3 / 4
Caleb Mendoza (left) and Damien Autio, both of Floodwood High School, compete to see how many duplex nails they can pound into a 2-by-4 at the Carpenters Local 361 demonstration area on Tuesday at the DECC. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)4 / 4

People from the construction trades met people from the high school grades Tuesday in Paulucci Hall, with the understanding that someday soon they’re going to need each other.

“We gotta get young blood into our crafts,” said Russ Whitehouse, a retired Duluth ironworker who continues to serve as an apprentice instructor. “We’re starting to get older.”

Construct Tomorrow, a concept that started in the Twin Cities last year, overtook the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center hall for a first-of-its-kind event in Duluth. The totally interactive showcase featured a welding simulator, the chance for students to run electrical wire, tests of hammering acumen and actual bricklaying.

“It’s pretty interesting,” said Kiersten Evenson, a Moose Lake sophomore who donned a hefty ironworking harness and tried her hand at tying rebar. While she wasn’t at the 27-per-minute clip that a good apprentice can reach, she held her own. Evenson said she liked how the trades often incorporate math.

She would have liked the millwright booth then, where Adam Richter, a third-year apprentice, spoke about how precision millwrighting uses lasers and hits its marks to within two-thousandths of an inch.  

“For the past 30 years, high schools have been pushing kids to four-year colleges,” Richter said. “It’s really been a struggle to get our younger generation into trades.”

While students moved from station to station, the trades — ironworkers, cement masons, plumbers and pipefitters, sheet metal workers, roofers, boilermakers, painters, carpenters, bricklayers, millwrights, construction laborers and electricians — pushed the advantages of their work.

They earned a quick convert in Hermantown’s Andy Loney, who comes from a family of insulation contractors.

“I like working with my hands; I like being outside, and they pay really well,” Loney said.

Students from Grand Marais to Willow River and everywhere in between took part in the daylong event.

“We want to make sure apprentice opportunities are on our students’ radar,” said Thomas Albright, the civic engagement coordinator for Duluth public schools.

Literature provided to the students by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry showed that a four-year apprenticeship can yield $144,000 in wages.

Hermantown junior Macey Magdzas said she plans on a career in cosmetology. But she worked intently to first pull electrical wire and then terminate a data jack. And listening to Aleece Lahti, an electrical apprentice, talk her through the fine details involved in low-voltage electrical work, Magdzas said she could see herself working in a trade.

“When she’s talking about it, I think it could be fun,” Magdzas said. “She makes it interesting.”