Hundreds of local high school students gathered at the Clark Event Center at the Fairgrounds on Friday to get a hands-on look at what a future career in the construction industry — a sector that is said to be facing a workforce crisis — might entail.
Leslie Robles was among the more than 500 teens who came for the Dozer Day Career Fair in Ridgefield.
Robles takes a fabrications class at Fort Vancouver High School. There, she gets to dabble in things like welding, plasma and oxy cutting. It sparked her interest in working in the trades.
“But the career fair really increased it,” said Robles, a sophomore at Fort Vancouver.
The event included representatives from 30 construction and building companies who talked with teens about their companies and their work.
Renee Nutter is president and co-founder of the local Nutter Foundation, which organizes Dozer Day. She speaks passionately about the annual event and showing kids another way besides just going automatically to college.
“College is great, and it’s really important,” said Nutter. “But we also have those hands-on learners. And that is something the trades is actually focused on.”
That’s why the event is a hands-on career fair, she said.
“If you’re in the trades, you can go and drive by that school and say, ‘I helped build that,’” said Nutter. “I mean, that’s a really good way to leave your legacy.”
Posters at the fair listed the average annual wage for some trade jobs: rigging at $72,800, welding at $85,280, drywall at $67,510, painting at $53,670, roofing at $85,280, landscaping at $55,340 and plumbing at $79,390, according to the Business Industry Association of Washington.
“You’re looking at a family wage job,” said Bart Hansen, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. The association partnered with the Nutter Foundation for the career day this year.
“When I was in high school, it was pretty much focused on ‘Are you going to go to college or not?’ We’re looking to change that narrative,” said Hansen. “The trades should be one of the first things that our youth are looking toward. Not only because it’s a great avenue for our youth, but also because there’s a shortage right now.”
The building industry rep pointed to a scarcity of electricians, plumbers, masons and framers.
“We need to fill that gap,” he said.
The gap is why local builder Jon Girod got involved with the Dozer Day Career Fair. Girod started participating in the event two and a half years ago.
“We’re in crisis levels,” said Girod, who owns Quail Homes.
“Many companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on trying to recruit employees,” said Hansen. That’s partly why the building association is involved with Dozer Day.
Girod said the local building workforce is getting older, and the industry needs to work on replacing them now.
The workforce crisis affects everyone in the industry, said Girod. There’s not enough labor, so labor costs more. Prices go up for building. When workers retire and new ones don’t do work as well, quality changes.
“In the county, construction is a top three employer,” said Girod. The industry is now working on building a feeder system to be able to build up and sustain a workforce. That’s where events like the Dozer Day Career Fair come in.
“We need these kinds of activities,” said Girod. “Otherwise, our whole community suffers.”
Dozer Day Vancouver will run Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.