COLUMBUS, MS – Courtesy of the Dispatch
Local teen students were invited to a special day at EMCC’s vocational skills center: the first FORGE Foundation Career Expo, which took place this past Wednesday. Ten different construction-related companies had gathered to join a number of technical schools and support organizations in order to give the students hands-on examples of what it’s like to work in the industry.
“This is pretty cool,” said Curtis McDonald, a student from New Hope Middle School. “I like hanging the drywall and it was cool learning about how to drive the road grader. That was a lot of fun. I could probably do something like this as a job when I get out of school. “
While the groups had oral presentations and displays, the students reserved their strongest enthusiasm for the hand-on activities. These included things like generating power via stationary bicycles, drawing up blueprints, physical competitions, and even building a brick wall.
“It’s going really well,” said FORGE Foundation member Katie McCrary, who owns McCrary West Construction with her husband Lu. “The kids are having fun. They’re loving the masonry wall or finishing concrete because they’ve never seen it. Today was all about exposure.”
The FORGE Foundation (Family Organizations Recruiting Great Employees), came about in 2018 as a cooperative effort among local construction-related businesses: “We came together because all of us are small businesses and we could not find employees to hire so we were stealing them from one another,” McCrary said. “So we all decided to sit down and work together. Small businesses can offer this next generation a lot.” They have been working to show that they can be an alternative to – rather than a 100% substitute for – larger construction firms.
“We are starting to see that mindset change,” McCrary said. “The latest data shows 27 percent of Mississippi kids will get a two-year or four-year degree of some kind. So our question is, what happens to the 73 percent who don’t? Who are these kids? What are they doing? Next year, there will be over a million skill trade jobs open in the United States and 97 percent of construction firms are currently hiring. If we don’t start changing these kids now, who is going to work for us? That’s basically where we are. Skill trade-wise, it’s becoming a lost art.”