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Event connects high school students to construction careers

Thomas Baker, left, of Chisholm, an apprentice with the Millwright Union Local 1348, helps Joseph Sundal, 16, a sophomore at Duluth East create a weld using a virtual reality arc welding trainer during Construct Tomorrow at the DECC last year. The event returns Tuesday and Wednesday. (Clint Austin /

Parents may delight at their child excelling at Legos or blocks — a future architect, they think and say.

But maybe she or he actually wants to build things.

Construct Tomorrow returns to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Tuesday and Wednesday to give high schoolers exposure to building trades and apprenticeships to jumpstart potential careers.

“A lot of students maybe had no idea they were interested, and this can get their parents interested, too,” said Rachel Loeffler-Kemp, community services director for Head of the Lakes United Way. “These are high-demand jobs in high-wage careers.”

Sophomores in the Duluth district will be bused to the DECC in shifts Tuesday, and other area schools will bring students throughout the day Wednesday. They’ll meet with representatives of various contractors and unions, who will be offering demonstrations, explanations and expectations for the workforce of the future.

“The perception is they don’t need to do math, don’t need to worry about doing well in school,” but of course that isn’t the case, said Rhonda Rutford, business services representative for the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Bringing juniors is important, in case there are any classes needed to better prepare for a career in the trades.

Tuesday night the DECC Arena opens up to the community from 6 to 7:30 p.m., so parents and students in other grades, or even those out of school looking for work, can learn more about careers in construction.

As Duluth’s workforce ages and retires and many high school graduates skip town, it can be tough for employers to find the help they need. Construct Tomorrow is meant to counter that narrative and show that economic opportunities are abundant here. It may just take a foot in the right direction.

“Maybe (parents) never considered it before, that Jimmy really wants to be an electrician,” Rutford said.

“It’s a good starting point for students,” Loeffler-Kemp added.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks covers business and the economy for the Duluth News Tribune.

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