Construction Rodeo | From SRQ Daily

The other day I received a call that I couldn’t have been happier to get. Steve Panagiotakis, the vice president of operations for Bright Future Electric, hired an impressive 18 students as interns from the recent Construction Rodeo. What a way to illustrate the return on investment from this one event. Once the students finish their various programs, the four-office company plans to hire them all as full-time employees. Aqua Plumbing’s Chuck Jacobson, chair of the subcontractor’s council for Gulf Coast Builders Exchange and a board member, has a number of applicants, and Mike Corbett from Piper Fire Protection also confirmed they are in the hiring process. So something is working.

More than 350 high school students attended the Construction Rodeo, a Gulf Coast Builders Exchange event that showcased information on careers in construction. Students from Sarasota and Manatee Counties interested in jobs in the various trade industries were bused to the event at the Manatee Technical College. They learned from more than 35 local businesses, with speakers and hands-on activities to help unveil the different construction-related career opportunities.

Huge congratulations are owed to the construction and business leaders who helped us spearhead this fantastic event. Over 50 Gulf Coast Builders Exchange members participated, volunteering their time and showcasing their businesses and giving our students an opportunity to interact directly with employers. There is so much opportunity in construction right now and so much talent in our schools. This is a perfect way to make sure our students know the career path to get into those vacancies that are right here in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Kudos the Sarasota and Manatee County Schools, too, for recognizing this as a worthy initiative and much-needed event for our students.

This event is important because there’s a workforce crisis in the region. Jobs are being held up, and prices are rising because we don’t have an abundance of skilled workers in the region. After the economic downturn many skilled workers left the region for good. We looked at opportunities for young people in regards to internships or apprenticeships in construction. We want to start opening these prospects up for them to help solve this workforce crisis.

A 2016 labor market analysis put out by CareerEdge Funders Collaborative showed that average annual pay for the construction field in Sarasota County grew between 10 percent and 15 percent between 2012 and 2015.

Panagiotakis agrees, too. He feels that the industry needs more participants and help with its high school students, and they are definitely doing their part. The amount of students that showed up to the Construction Rodeo truly demonstrates the need for young people—in need of direction and choices—to find gainful employment.

Corbett was pleasantly surprised by the interest and number of the students that attended, many of who didn’t even know there were other industries besides air conditioning, plumbing and electronic. Over the years, this event will really open up the student’s eyes to all of the trades available, including fire sprinklers.

This is extremely encouraging success, and our plan is to make this an annual event, alternating between the Manatee Technical College and the Suncoast Technical College. I would highly encourage the construction community, trades and business leaders to attend, volunteer, purchase a booth and recruit these students, who we can hopefully keep in the Sarasota and Manatee region. Look to leaders like those at Bright Futures Electric to ensure bright futures for career- ready students right here in Sarasota.

BY MARY DOUGHERTY SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUL 1, 2017
Mary Dougherty is executive director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange.