Career event gives students hands-on experience with equipment

Approximately 1,350 high school students from Rhode Island met April 20-21 for the state’s annual Construction Career Days.

Students were able to operate jackhammers, backhoes and bucket trucks, while professional operators demonstrated rollers, line stripers, and all-terrain forklifts. On-site demonstrations also included bricklaying, plastering, welding, electrical wiring and iron working.

The program, which exists in 22 states, was created in 1999 by a partnership of private contractors and federal highway employees in an attempt to recruit new employees and crafts people for the construction industry. In Rhode Island, the program is administered by the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

“Today’s students represent the pool of workers the construction industry will recruit from,” said Jeff Cathcart, coordinator of the event. “Construction Career Days exposes participants to rewarding and diverse careers. These events offer students career options that they otherwise might not have been exposed to.”

In addition to the more traditional construction trades, high school students also learned how to wear a hazardous material suit and attended a special session on highway sign design.

According to Cathcart, the event is important because the construction industry in Rhode Island is always looking for good people to join its workforce. This year, the state has more expensive road construction projects than ever before, worth $350 million.