Puyallup High School seniors Bailey Lane and Ashleigh Steeber attended the annual Pierce County Career Day with a goal in mind: learn more about their options in the skilled trades.
As students in the advanced automotive class at PHS, they’re used to working with their hands, but they don’t hear much about how to translate that work into a career.
“(Everyone is) always saying go to school, go to school, go to school, and they’re not thinking about physical labor jobs,” Lane said.
(Everyone is) always saying go to school, go to school, go to school, and they’re not thinking about physical labor jobs.
Bailey Lane, senior at Puyallup High School
But the 10th annual Pierce County Career Day on Nov. 16 at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup gave them some of the information they needed, Lane and Steeber said. There, students like them got the chance to talk to representatives from the construction, aerospace, transportation, utilities, manufacturing and STEM industries about what they do. Not only that, but they got to experience that work with hands-on activities, including operating excavators and working with welding and electrical equipment.
“We’re really trying to showcase what it looks like to work with their hands. The reason we think our event is unique is we try to have each of our vendors have a hands-on activity for our students,” said Mark Martinez, who works on behalf of the Pierce County Building Trades Council and has been with the event since its inception.
Pierce County Career Day originally formed after demographics were showing a need for qualified candidates to fill skilled trade positions, Martinez said. Right now, there aren’t enough in Pierce County, and the number of positions needed to fill will only go up as workers retire.
“We really needed to get young people in these skilled trades,” Martinez said.
We really needed to get young people in these skilled trades.
Mark Martinez, Pierce County Building Trades Council
The event started with 25 vendors and 250 students, and has grown to be the largest career day in the state, with more than 100 exhibitors and 2,500 high school students attending.
Several years ago, the event started addressing another issue: closing the gender gap in the skilled trades. Only about 3 percent of frontline workers in construction nationally are women, with 12 percent in Washington state, Martinez said.
So a “Girls-Only” section was introduced at the event, where female students met other women working in the skilled trade fields.
“We noticed a lot of participation from boys, but the girls hung back,” Martinez said. “We’re trying to make a welcoming environment.”
Stephanie Caldwell, community outreach for Absher Construction in Puyallup, said that the section encouraged girls to ask questions and get involved in activities, such as putting on a pair of gloves and making their own boxes out of sheet metal with the Western Washington Sheet Metal Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee.
“The gap is closing for sure, but it can always be improved,” Caldwell said.
The Pierce County Career Day was helpful for both Lane and Steeber, who said they learned about apprenticeships and technical colleges they can look into as graduation grows closer. Steeber said she wants to become either an automotive or nuclear mechanic. Lane is interested in diesel mechanics and possibly starting his own business.
The purpose of Career Day is opening students’ eyes when it comes to opportunities before them, said Christian Caple, communications director for WorkForce Central.
“What this event is about is awareness,” Caple said. “There’s this perception that these jobs are dirty, but they’re actually very rewarding and there are a lot of them right here in Pierce County.”