weldingBy Jen Schottke, Membership & Marketing Director for Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter According to recent research, 37.5 million baby boomers will retire in the next decade, yet only 21 million workers will enter the workforce to replace them. Here in Western Michigan, we asked ourselves, “What are we doing about this impending workforce shortage?” The answer was to reach individuals when they are young and beginning to make decisions about their career path, which meant reaching middle and high school students. The challenge we faced was how to make the most impact in a short amount of time and, most importantly, in a fun and memorable way. This is how Michigan Career Quest came about. Michigan Career Quest began as a conversation between the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter and Kent Intermediate School District. We discussed the ever-increasing workforce gap in the skilled crafts and the disconnect in attracting students to this career path. The conversation quickly expanded to include three other industries facing the same issues – health sciences, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Together, and in partnership with Michigan’s workforce development agency – Michigan Works! – we formed a steering committee to launch a career exploration day unlike any other in our region. On April 28, 2015, four industries, 93 businesses, 17 educational institutions, 900 volunteers and 5,500 middle and high school students filled a 162,000-square-foot convention center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the first annual Michigan Career Quest. Each of the four industries were tasked with developing a football field-sized exhibit space and filling it with hands-on, interactive and inspiring learning experiences to expose students to careers in each industry. In construction, 15 crafts and career paths were highlighted: concrete, carpentry and drywall, flooring, tile setting, fire protection, ironworking, mechanical, plumbing, welding, electrical, home building and framing, architecture and engineering, safety and project management. These 15 exhibits were created and staffed by members of the Construction Workforce Development Alliance of West Michigan, an alliance comprised of three associations: the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter, the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan and the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids. steelThe exhibit allowed students to try their hand at the various craft and career paths. Students were able to use a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher or drop their cellphone into a tank of fire suppression liquid that doesn’t conduct electricity. At the ironwork exhibit, students put on safety harnesses, tied off to a steel beam and experienced what it was like to walk across a steel structure. At the glazing exhibit, students donned glass gloves and a rubber mallet to try and break a large sheet of safety glass. While the activities may not have been exactly what craft professionals do on a daily basis, they did allow students and professionals to learn about careers while engaging in fun activities. One teacher stated, “I cannot speak more highly of our time yesterday. I was a bit unsure of what our students would experience but was blown away by the number of hands-on exhibits, employers, career paths and opportunities for exploration. The exposure our students received cannot be matched by other school or community programs.” Of the 600 students who were surveyed about their experience at the event, 87 percent agreed that they learned about career opportunities that they were not aware of prior to the event. Michigan Career Quest was a tremendous success thanks to a region committed to collaboration and the future success of our youth.

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NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.