Backhoes and bucket trucks took center stage at Western North Carolina’s Construction Career Days on October 15 and 16 at the Haywood County Fairgrounds.

The career fair brought out nearly 1,000 students from 10 surrounding counties. Area schools that participated included Tuscola, Pisgah, and Central Haywood high schools.

“Construction Career Days is a great opportunity to expose students to local jobs with high growth, high demand, and high wages,” Nathan Ramsey, Mountain Area Workforce Development Board director, said. “Many students don’t realize that jobs in construction have a wide spectrum of opportunities and career progression.”

Students were given 90 minutes to talk with more than 40 local and state businesses and organizations in the main building. They learned about everything from how to wire a basic switch to how to become a construction manager.

Their remaining time was spent operating dump trucks, track hoes, and other equipment in an interactive environment.

Bucket trucks from area electric companies proved to be the most popular piece of equipment among students.

Despite being leery of heights, Tuscola junior Colby M. strapped on safety gear and was lifted more than 30 feet into the air.

“My favorite part of the day was getting the hands-on experience with the equipment like the bucket truck,” Colby said. “I’m still not sure what I want to do career wise, but it was really great seeing all the different jobs that are out there.”

Among the businesses and organizations at Construction Career Days was MB Haynes Corporation, an employee-owned business offering expertise in electrical, plumbing, HVAC/R, commercial security systems, solar, industrial and general building construction.

“Students have shown a keen interest in the trade,” Luke Triplett, a foreman with Haynes Firestop, said. “We’re always searching for employees who are motivated to learn something new and who are enthusiastic about our life-saving products.”

MB Haynes, like many of the organizations present at the career fair, offers on-the job training for employees.

Construction Career Days returned to Western North Carolina after a three-year hiatus due to a string of retirements and searching for lead sponsors. This year, Buncombe-County-based Vannoy Construction and Mountain Area Workforce Development Board stepped in to sponsor the event.

“A lot of people don’t realize that many construction jobs pay more than jobs you need a four-year degree to get,” Ramsey explained. “There’s a real job gap in our area. Construction allows employees to advance quickly or even break out on their own to create a business.”

According to the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, construction jobs in Western North Carolina will increase five percent over the next three years. The current average income is $49,606.

Jacob Palmer attended the last Construction Career Days in 2016 as a student at Tuscola High School. Now, Palmer is a transportation worker with the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT). He represented the NCDOT at the event and showed students how to operate a boom truck that he uses on the job to pick up and set beams for bridges.

“When I attended this event as a student, I wanted to be a welder,” Palmer explained. “I remember seeing the NCDOT here and thinking that they looked like a team. I realized that there’s more to these jobs than what you see when you drive by a work crew.”

After Palmer graduated from Tuscola in 2017, a friend from church mentioned that the NCDOT was hiring temporary workers.

Palmer applied and worked as a temporary employee for seven months before being hired on full time. He now works as a member of the NCDOT’s bridge team. Palmer helps repair, build, and maintain area bridges.

“Every day is different for me; one day I may help fix a bulkhead on a bridge or repaint the railings, and the next day I may be putting on a wetsuit and getting logs out of a creek under a bridge,” Palmer said. “I really do love my job and my co-workers, and I can see myself happily working here for the next 30 years.”

Organizers hope to bring Construction Career Days back again next year. Construction Career Days is one of several career-driven events that Haywood County Schools participates in to expose students to a variety of career fields.

Submitted by: Carrie Sutton, HCS Foundation