Almost 500 high school students got a chance to check out opportunities in the construction and trades industry Friday at Surry County’s first Construction Trades Career Day at Veterans Memorial Park.
“We’re having trouble finding help. Younger kids don’t want to do construction and trades jobs because they haven’t been exposed to it,” said Jody Phillips, Smith-Rowe vice president and primary organizer of the event sponsored by his company.
“He’s not just the sponsor. He’s the creator and mastermind,” said Crystal Folger-Hawks, Surry County Schools career coach, who partnered on the event.
“We’ve got 45 businesses here today, all local people who are looking to get kids interested in construction jobs,” said Phillips. “You can graduate high school and go straight to work and get on-the-job training. You can go to Surry Community College or Forsyth Tech for a technical degree and come right into the work force. Or you can get a four-year degree in engineering or construction management and still get a good job right here in Surry County.”
Folger-Hawks added, “Our kids know where Highway 52 is, and they know where I-77 is, and they know how to get out of here. But we want them to know what is available here. A kid might study accounting and think they need to go to a big bank in Winston to get a job. That one in a tall building downtown. But that’s not always true.”
As to whether the jobs represented by the companies present were the kind of jobs to make a career, Folger-Hawks was adamant. “These are jobs with benefits, jobs that will pay the bills. These are good companies.”
“These are great businesses, and they’re hiring,” said Phillips.
One of the businesses that was hiring was Johnson Granite.
“We have 10 different position we’re looking to fill,” said Brian Johnson, CEO/president of Johnson Granite, manning the company’s booth with marketing director Jennifer Slate. “Some of them are,” he said in response to a question as to whether any of the positions would be suitable for one of the students present who would be graduating from high school next month. “We’ve got some part-time work too. Monday through Thursday we run a second shift until 1:30 a.m.”
Johnson said his company had worked with the school system to initiate an intern program this spring.
“A Surry Early College senior started in January as an intern. Part of his curriculum was to work for us. He was paid for his work and has been offered a full-time position when he graduates. In construction and trades, we need young people. College is great, but it’s not for everyone.”
Johnson’s family-owned business has been in existence for 18 years and employs 65 people in the Holly Springs community. Custom granite work is their specialty, but they also do mass-market work.
“Created by nature, refined by craftsmen,” Johnson proudly recites the company motto. “Automation will never replace all that we do. No robot can carry this to somebody’s house (pointing to a granite-topped kitchen island) and install it. We’re a manufacturing business and a service business.”
Over in the middle of the exhibition space, Noah Barr, a 15-year-old sophomore, was attempting to pick up an orange traffic cone with a ‘mini-excavator’ under the watchful eye of Nathan Thomas, a Smith-Rowe project manager, while a crowd of students waited for a turn at the controls.
“That kid’s good at video games,” said Thomas, “so he picked it up pretty good.”
Thomas said hand-eye coordination was one of the skills required for operating the equipment, a skill developed by video games.
“It did feel a lot like controlling a game,” Noah said when he got off of the excavator.
Tyler Holder and Morgan East, East Surry students waiting for a turn at the excavator, weren’t relying on their video game skills which they characterized as decent and pretty good. Tyler has worked on a farm for a couple of years and Morgan drives his grandpa’s tractor. They were relying on good old-fashioned experience.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.