Shawn Suga gives Kealakehe students Michael Sigrah, 16, and Donny Malagon, 15, a ride in a telescopic boom lift during Hawaii Construction Career Day at the Hilo Civic Auditorium Thursday afternoon. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
With the construction industry beginning to rebound on Hawaii Island, there was a heightened sense of excitement Thursday at Construction Career Day in Hilo.
Nearly 900 high school students from 20 Hawaii Island public, private and charter schools got a first-hand introduction to dozens of job opportunities that await them in the construction industry and related trades.
Any fan of big equipment, heavy machinery, building things and moving dirt around would have found themselves in a heaven of their own behind the Hilo Civic auditorium, where the County Fair grounds were transformed into a veritable construction playground with dozers, loaders and backhoes all lined up and waiting for students to get some valuable experience and insight into a possible career.
Along with the hands-on experience, students received instruction and guidance from actual construction trades workers, educators and industry representatives.
Fourteen-year-old Josh Kamelamela’s eyes lit up as he commanded the controls of a backhoe. When done with that, the Hilo High freshman could barely stop to talk as he eyed the giant bucket lifts that hoisted hard-hatted students high over the Civic grounds. “I want to do that,” he said. “And I want to run the bulldozer.
“I came to find out if I want to do this kind of stuff,” Kamelamela said before scurrying away to his next adventure.
The state Department of Transportation’s Highway construction and Maintenance Division co-sponsors the event with Hawaii’s private construction industry, primarily to enhance career technology education, increase diversity in the industry, and prepare students for careers in the construction industry. It was the sixth OVERSET FOLLOWS:annual Construction Career Day, though four have been held on Oahu. The last one in Hilo was in 2010.
“We wanted our kids to experience different types of job options,” said Scott Yamada, one of Kamelamela’s teachers. Yamada’s teaching partner at Hilo High, Jody Ferreira, called the Career Day “amazing … . It’s the first time the school has sent students from its skills program,” she said. “It’s exceeded our expectations.”
For safety and added realism, each student was provided with a hard hat, safety goggles, earplugs and a back pack to wear as they circulated through the “Heavy Equipment” and “Trades” event areas.
Curtis Goya, who instructed Kamelamela in how to operate the heavy equipment, is a sales representative for equipment manufacturer Bacon-Universal. Goya said helping students like Kamelamela is important to his company. “Some people have to learn,” he said, and the Construction Career Day is a good place to start.
Inside the nearby Butler Building were booths staffed by construction trade unions, engineering firms, surveyors and mapping firms, construction companies, businesses, schools and educational programs in construction-related industries, all eager to help the students find their way into the various trades.
Just outside the Butler Building, several students were trying their hand at setting ceramic tiles. Mel Silva, who coordinates local training in bricklaying, ceramic tile setting, cement finishing and plastering for the Mason’s Union, said several Pahoa High School grads have joined the union’s program after discovering the opportunity at a previous Construction Career Day. “Like I told Pahoa, three or four graduates are doing real well who were exposed here,” Silva said.
Silva said the construction industry is beginning to show positive signs of picking up on Hawaii Island following the recession. “By 2013, demand will be so great all our benches will be clear and there will be a demand for new workers,” he said.
The construction job market is bright for women as well. June Keaton staffed a booth for the National Association of Women in Construction. “Opportunities for women are much better,” she said. “It’s more open, with better training, a lot more promotions — they don’t have they fear of being in a men’s world.
“This is our fifth year of educating young women that this is something they can do,” Keaton said. “They’re learning exactly what construction is about. A lot of students don’t even know what a carpenter does. At least when we’re done here there’s the satisfaction that they know little bit more. They got something out of it. It does work.”
Amber Cosier’s interest was piqued. The Pahoa High junior said she saw “some pretty cool things” at her first Construction Career Day. “Maybe I’d like to do this for a living. There are choke jobs, they teach you, and they don’t discriminate. They encourage you,” she said.
Meanwhile, Keaau High senior Cherese Shelton tried her hand at hammering a nail into a block of wood. “I’m still trying to seek out what I want to do,” she said. “I was looking at business, but thought I’d take this opportunity.” Shelton shares a drafting design and technology class at Keaau High with classmate Shelly Roof, who made it a point to operate every piece of the heavy equipment that was available.
“It’s harder than I thought,” Roof said. “All the controls are confusing.” Shelton didn’t care for the big machines so much, however, “Maybe I’ll find something that will spark my interest.”
Thomas Lee, a sophomore at Waiakea High School, wants to be an architect but was operating a backhoe with ease. “I didn’t expect all the machinery,” he said, but Lee said it will enhance his career as an architect to gain better understanding of the construction industry.
At the Hawaii Laborers’ Training Program booth, Lamar DeRego touted apprenticeship programs and steady wage increases for laborers.
“If school doesn’t work out, then try the laborers,” DeRego pitched.
Right next to him, Kelsey Nakapaahu told another group of interested students that, “if the military is not for you, this is the next best thing.”