Construction Science Expo 2019: Next Gen Engineers and Tradesmen

By: Michael King

Over the past eight years, the Construction Science Expo (CSE) has introduced the professional trade and engineering industries to more than 8,000 Detroit students. The event has even led some to careers where their skills will be in demand and valued. The expo is held annually at the Michigan Science Center. Sponsored by The Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan, MITA, Operating Engineers 324, and MDOT, several other organizations joined them to transform the Science Center into an exciting hands-on experience that was immersed in construction and engineering applications, exploratory exercises, and one-on-one discussions with industry leaders.

Kannon Pinkel, a third-year apprentice with the IBEW Local 58, spoke to a crowd of students about his career journey, why he loved his work and how much money he makes. “Last year, I earned $75,000,” he said. “This year, I hope to break into the six-figure bracket.”

If that was not enough to get the kids excited about the trades and engineering, the rest of the activities should have. At one station, students engaged with virtual reality, drones and augmented reality. The augmented reality goggles were the coolest part. Also known as DAQRI Smart Glasses, the goggles show an entirely artificial world overlaying your own. They are also used to show a finished construction project, well before any actual construction has occurred.

At other stations, the students worked with trowels, grout and bricks to sharpen their masonry skills, operated real and simulated construction machinery like mini-excavators and a gigantic Spydercrane, used CAD 3D software to build structurally sound bridges, and challenged union carpenters to a nail driving face-off. The expo had an abundance of interactive activities, but did it have the desired effect on the students?

Several young people said that before today, they had never considered working in the industry. However, as the day moved forward, they began to imagine themselves in these professions. Ronald W. Brenke, Executive Director of ACEC/Michigan commented, “We’re encouraging youth to explore these opportunities, especially if they enjoy problem-solving, and it’s working!”

Davion and Terrence were both Cody High School freshmen attending the event. They said that initially, they did not know what they were interested in. By the end of the day, however, both students said they were amazed by the many opportunities available.

“These students can look at the progress taking shape in their communities, and learn how they can take part in building a rewarding future at the same time,” said Lee Graham, executive director, Operating Engineers 324.

While many people still have reservations about the career opportunities in the construction industry, events like the CSE are opening students’ eyes to the rewarding possibilities in both the skilled trades and engineering professions.