• Career Fair Highlights
    Construction Jobs

    Posted by Josh Flory on 4/10/2019
    Chris Miller, of HVAC contractor United Services, Inc., demonstrates equipment used by the company during the CTEP career fair.
    Chris Miller, of HVAC contractor United Services, Inc., demonstrates equipment used by the company during the CTEP career fair.

    Nate Varnell is eyeing a career as an electrician, but on a recent Thursday morning he tried his hand at laying bricks.

    Varnell, a junior at Halls High School, attended the Construction Trades Education Partnership career fair, which was held at the Crown College School of Trades and Technology. The event featured dozens of firms ranging from general contractors to more specialized companies, including Maryville-based Maston Construction, a masonry contractor that sponsored a booth where students could practice using bricks and mortar.

    The idea was to give students a close-up look at opportunities for employment after high school. But it also reflected an underlying reality: many construction jobs are going unfilled as older workers retire.

    “Literally you’ve got companies that are very profitable that have to turn down good contracts because they don’t have the workforce to deliver them,” said Charlie Parker, director of the Construction Science Program at the University of Tennessee, which co-sponsored the event.

    With that in mind, industry officials are working to catch the attention of KCS students who are studying in Career & Technical Education fields.

    Chris Miller, of HVAC contractor United Services, Inc., had a booth at the career fair and was demonstrating equipment used by the company.

    Miller said it’s important for students to understand the kind of training they can receive at a trade job, and that within four years they can get a company-paid vehicle and phone, along with journeyman status.

    “There’s no machine, there’s nothing you can make that does what we do … You’re guaranteeing yourself a career for as long as you want to do it,” Miller said.

    Within KCS, students have many opportunities to pursue industry certifications, in fields like welding, carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and HVAC.

    Arthur Baham, a carpentry teacher at Gibbs High School, said that as the Baby Boomer generation retires, “we’re going to have a serious shortage of skilled laborers and workers.”

    The career fair, he said, is helpful because students can speak directly to industry officials, and get a better understanding of “what does my future look like in this career?”

    Before entering the classroom, Baham did maintenance work in areas including carpentry, electrical and HVAC. But he highlighted the opportunities that are available now for students who are coming out of high school.

    “Some of these students will make better money in construction than I ever made,” he said.

    Students who participated in the career fair were asked to create a resume, partly to provide experience but also to provide a point of contact with companies that might have jobs available. Keith Wilson, director of Career & Technical Education for KCS, said that in some cases, students could line up a summer job through the fair, but that the larger goal is to provide a chance to network and be exposed to future employment opportunities.

    Wilson said there are multiple pathways toward employment that KCS tries to emphasize. While some students might go directly from high school to a job or apprenticeship, others could go on to postsecondary education at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus or a community college.

    Other students, he said, could leverage training as an electrician today into a bachelor’s degree or a management position down the road. “There’s no one stopping them from taking it where they want to go with it,” he said.

    Crown College donated space for the career fair, which was sponsored by Builders Exchange of Tennessee, a non-profit whose members include construction-related businesses from across the state.

    Trish Corbitt, the Exchange’s CEO, attended the fair, agreed that a career in the construction trades can be a chance to move up the ladder into management or entrepreneurship.

    “The opportunities are endless,” she added.