By ROBERT KELLY
Sunset Hills, MO — The Explorers of the Greater St. Louis Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, are hailing as a success this summer’s pilot program to introduce local Explorers to the world of construction work.
Exploring is a career exploration program for students ages 14-20 years old that pairs students directly with local companies and organizations to learn about different careers by participating in unique, real-life opportunities in fields so they can learn if certain careers are right for them while they are in high school and college.
Area building trades unions willingly donated time to help the nine boys who participated in the program, hoping to entice younger people to consider the union construction trades when planning their careers by providing them with a week of hands-on projects.
Ryan Kirchner, Exploring executive for the Greater St. Louis Area Council, said he hopes the pilot program can be expanded next year to include several more Explorer participants and possibly more weeks for the basic construction training provided by union members.
“We feel we succeeded in stressing real world career experiences,” Kircher said during the program’s last day at South Technical High School in Sunset Hills.
In addition to receiving instruction at South Tech, the Explorers visited active job sites of the Carpenters, Sheet Metal Workers, and Laborers. The program ran from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, with the boys being bused to various work sites to observe construction projects and ask questions about the jobs.
The boys who took part in the program gave it generally positive reviews. Some said they were hoping to have careers in construction trades.
‘IT WAS FUN’
“It was fun, and I learned how to operate some machines,” said Malik Dennis, 14, of St. Louis. Malik will be a freshman at St. Mary’s High School this fall. He said he wanted eventually to work as a crane operator at construction sites.
During the program at South Tech, Malik got to ride along with electrical trades instructor Barclay Hirth on an industrial lift to a height of 26 feet above ground. Malik said that experience made him even more excited about a career in construction.
LEARNING A VARIETY OF CONSTRUCTION SKILLS
Declan Depew, 14, of Edwardsville, said he enjoyed learning a variety of construction skills. He will be a freshman this fall at Edwardsville High.
Declan said he had yet to decide on a potential career.
“Carpentry looks interesting, and iron working,” he said. “Before this week, I hadn’t really had a whole lot of experience in working with metal.”
The Explorers got to do some basic welding and learned about cutting and fitting sheet metal.
‘THESE SKILLS WILL HELP YOU’
Cooper Garner, 14, of Mehlville, is home-schooled. He also said he learned a lot in the Explorers’ construction program.
“It’s definitely been valuable,” Cooper said. “These skills will help you in everyday life.”
Cooper said he considering a career in computer sciences.
ASKED GOOD QUESTIONS AND GOT GOOD INFORMATION
In addition to visiting job sites, the Explorers visited the Laborers Union Apprenticeship Program Training Center at High Hill, Mo.
Laborers’ Apprenticeship Advisor Josh Wright said he was happy to meet with the boys and wanted to participate in any future programs with the Explorers.
“I’d like to build on that, for sure,” Wright said. “The boys were very involved with what we taught them, and they asked good questions and got some good information.”
He said middle-school students and young teens were among the best possible recruits for future work in construction trades.
“It seems like they ask better questions than older students,” Wright said. “They don’t already have their minds made up about their careers, and they are interested in what we tell them.”
Wright said Labor unions can benefit from getting younger recruits as apprentices, because they learn quickly and likely will stay in their jobs for a long time.
HOPE TO EXPAND PROGRAM NEXT YEAR
Sally Difani, a career counselor at both South and North Technical high schools, praised the participating unions and their members who helped with the Explorers’ pilot effort.
“The unions have been so wonderful to work with,” she said. “We certainly hope to expand this program and do it again next year.”
Difani said most students at South and North Techs continue their education after high school at colleges or trade schools.
“But there are more and more opportunities to go straight into work after high school” as apprentices in various Labor Unions, she noted.
More information about the Explorers’ construction trades program is available online at stlbsa.org/exploring.