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Framing the Future

Students get hands-on as they are introduced to the construction trades

Godwin Heights — “Just blow on it,” said Jane VanderVelde as she handed 12th-grader Ricardo Orellana a portable air flow thermometer, which gauges wind speed.

“Let’s see what you got?” she said as she took the thermometer back. “Three miles. Hmmm. Blow harder.”

VanderVelde, a regional safety manager for the Christman construction company, was at Godwin Heights High School as part of the Construction Traveling Roadshow from the West Michigan Works! Construction Careers Council. 

“Our main mission is to address the current and future needs of our industry,” said Ryan Struck-VanderHaak, the council’s co-chair. “We are hoping to do that by reaching students now and showcasing them the wide variety of opportunities there are in the construction field.”

Julie Kurylowicz, from Wolverine Building Company, talks about the work she does that has included building the koala enclosures at the John Ball Zoo

Need for Construction Workers Grows

According to the U.S. Census, there are more than 1.5 million construction jobs in the United States with the field expected to grow about 4 percent from 2021 to 2031. Associated Builders and Contractors indicates that prediction has jumped up already, with the field increasing by 4.2 percent in 2022 and adding about 311,000 jobs over the previous year. 

Within construction, the workforce is aging out. It is estimated that by 2040 there will be a severe construction worker shortage, said Mac Dodds, West Michigan Works! industry council lead for construction. 

Started in 2021, the Construction Careers Council is the newest West Michigan Works! program. The agency has a total of five programs, the others being West Michigan Tech Talent, Discover Manufacturing, West Michigan Health Career Council, and the Agribusiness Talent Council. All of these initiatives are focused on helping to promote careers and develop talent pipelines for its specific fields.

’It is a lot of work and I have a learning curve to get where I want to be, but that’s OK.’

 – Elijah True, senior

With October being Careers in Construction Month, the council decided to host the Construction Traveling Roadshow. The roadshow aims to increase awareness of the wide range of construction careers in hopes of interesting more students to pursue the field.

Council members visited area schools, presenting a 45-minute curriculum that included opportunities for students to speak directly with industry professionals and participate in hands-on activities.

Dodds said the roadshow has been very popular, visiting about 20 school districts within the West Michigan Works region. In fact, due to the interest from schools, the roadshow was extended into November to meet demand.

Meeting the Potential Workforce

At Godwin, Dodds talked about college and non-college career paths to about 60 Godwin students. This was followed by three construction workers telling their stories of how they entered the construction field and what they love about it. 

Students were broken into groups that rotated among three tables, each manned by a construction professional and with opportunities to explore some of the construction equipment — or in the case of 11th-grader Alexander Gutierrez, try on the safety harness.

“This is definitely something that I am hoping to get into,” said Alexander, who is in the Kent Career Tech Center’s Applied Construction Technology program. “The field that I am hoping for is to become an electrician.”

Godwin Heights High School counselor Kristi Bonilla said the school wants to provide a variety of possible career opportunities for its students to explore. The hands-on nature of the event and opportunity to meet people in the job fields are plusses, she said. 

At one table, Julie Kurylowicz, a carpenter from Wolverine Building Group, showed students the different tools she uses on the job. 

“In construction, you really get to do a lot of different things,” Kurylowicz said. “Most recently, I got the opportunity to work at the John Ball Zoo helping to construct the koala exhibit.

“It is kind of cool to think that something you constructed will be seen by the public.”

Senior Elijah True only had one question for her. 

“Do you have any job applications with you?”

Jane VanderVelde, a regional safety manager for the Christman construction company, talks to students about the importance of safety on the job

A Possible Career Choice

Elijah said he attended the roadshow to make connections. Construction work was just something he wanted to do and he was fortunate to have family members, such as his grandfather, show him a few things. Now Elijah is ready to take the next step and enter the field with the hope of achieving his dream: running his own general contracting business. 

“I like the work because it gives me a rush,” Elijah said. “It is a lot of work and I have a learning curve to get where I want to be, but that’s OK.

“I want to make something that is bigger than I can be.”

Ricardo Orellana said he too probably will continue to explore construction as a possible career option.

“I am interested,” he said. “I like knowing that you are helping people whether constructing their home or keeping others safe while working.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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