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Students get hands-on exposure to construction jobs


Kenilworth Junior High eighth grader Diana Macias said hitting the nail on the head was harder than it looked.

On Thursday morning, Macias followed carpenter Frank Dabrowski's instructions and tried to sink a nail into a rail of wood in as few strokes as possible.

"It was hard to get the hammer to do what you wanted, in the right position," she said.

With practice, apprentice carpenters learn not to "woodpecker," but to drive a nail flush with the wood in two strikes, Dabrowski said.

"They'll get the eye to set it with one and sink it with the second," he said.

Macias was one of more than approximately 1,110 middle and high school students who attended the Careers in Construction Expo at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building on Thursday, getting hands-on exposure to a slew of different trades and career possibilities.

Now in its 10th year, the Careers in Construction Expo is back after a one-year hiatus spurred by the lagging economy, said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, which sponsored the event.

Coordinated in conjunction with the Sonoma County Office of Education, the event pulled students from middle and high schools across Sonoma and Lake counties and gave students time to make sheet metal tool boxes, operate platform lifts, take part in mock interviews and even run a jackhammer.

"It felt very powerful," Anabelle Padilla, an eighth grader at Brook Haven School in Sebastopol, said after stepping away from a jackhammer. "My woodshop teacher inspired me. He really encouraged us to get out and try more things."

That is the goal of bringing together more than 10 live demonstrations as well as booths featuring architects, landscape designers, plumbers and interior designers, Woods said.

"We want them to sit down across from a plumber and say 'What's it like? What do I make? What do I need to do?'" Woods said. "We want kids to at least consider construction and not as a last resort."

Blue collar jobs — construction, maintenance, repair, installation and others — make up about 12 percent of Sonoma County jobs, according to Occupational Employment statistics.

"Construction is coming back. It's been one of those that we are seeing an uptick in employment," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. "It's a very timely conference."

"The bigger picture is the boomers with their retirement — the need for people in the trades will become just critical," he said.

It comes at a time when many districts are putting increased attention on career technical classes under the federal push to make students "college and career ready," said Stephan Jackson, director of career development and the regional occupation program for the county office of education.

"I think there is a stronger focus on (career technical education) as we shift to Common Core," he said of the new state and federal academic standards being introduced in area classrooms.

Jules Strasser teaches math and science at Piner-Olivet Charter School but said watching students get excited about pounding on a nail or using a sheet metal press is exciting.

"It's kind of fun seeing the guys doing things you wouldn't normally see them do," he said. "A lot of it is exposure."