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Iowa teens lay foundation for a career in construction

Students in DMACC's Building Trades Program are helping fill the need for skilled tradesmen and women across the state.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Even as unemployment rates drop and the economy sees more job growth, demand remains high for skilled workers in construction. Some contractors say they can't find enough qualified employees.

But there are programs looking to close that gap by introducing young people to building trades.

"I have wanted to build my own house from a very young age," said Isabella Graham, a 19-year-old who is part of DMACC's Building Trades Program.

That dream slowly became a foundation.

"I was very fortunate to get an internship at 16 where I found exactly what I wanted to do as my career," she said. "I really like everything about residential construction."

Graham is part of a class of 23 students helping build a house in Des Moines.

"We have a unique group of people that come in all the way from homeschooled kids or kids coming straight out of high school to adults that want to change their career path to retired people," said Professor Ned Rasmussen, who also serves as the program chair.

Isaac Piersma was attracted to the program because it paired real-world experience with classroom instruction.

"I thought about other trades too, like electrical plumbing, and this is just the one that I really fell in love with. I love framing cutting boards doing trim all that that's really fun for me," said Piersma.

And it could mean opportunities for him and others. According to Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Iowa, that's because the demand for their skills is high.

"Nationwide we're about 2.2 million behind what we need to keep up with retirements and just the growth that we're having in our economy," said Ginny Shindelar, vice president of education and training at ABC. "Here in Iowa, that translates the same, but just on a slightly smaller scale."

Educators like Shindelar and Rasmussen say more needs to be done to attract people to the industry.

"In our current educational environment, a lot of our high schools do not have programs that will introduce any of these trades to their students," said Rasmussen.

"The options are endless, and I think just getting that message out there is very important," said Shindelar.

Graham, meanwhile, got that message early.

"The first internship that I ever had was given to me by my high school shop teacher," she said.

And now, it's paying off.

"He's the reason that I am here today."

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