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Exploring all options: Trades workers speak to RWHS students

Members of The Crew — skilled trades workers from around the country who volunteer as company ambassadors for Red Wing Shoe Co. — pose for a group photo Oct. 13, 2017, before a forum in Red Wing High School. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Jared Siegel (left) of New Jersey and Charlie Kawas of New York are owners of construction businesses. They took part in the Oct. 13 forum for high school students to learn about career options in the skilled trades. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

More than a hundred Red Wing High School students participated in a skilled labor forum Friday, Oct. 13, designed to highlight career options in the trades.

Red Wing Shoe Co. brought several members of "The Crew" — trades workers from around the country who volunteer as company ambassadors and provide product feedback. The group included a carpenter, electrician, ironworker and diesel mechanic.

The hope was that hearing from workers and learning about their jobs would reduce the stigma of pursuing a trade after high school, said Bryce Wernsman, the Shoe's marketing director.

"Skilled trades are an option to make a wonderful life for yourself, have a rewarding career and make an impact in the world," he said.

The plan for the forum was to hold an introduction and explain what it means to work in a trade before splitting the students into smaller groups for discussions.

"I just think it's a great idea to get out there and get these kids involved at a young age," said Paul Comer, a journeyman electrician from California.

Comer said the impression he had in high school was that getting into construction was what people did if they couldn't be a doctor or a lawyer; but, after getting into a trade at age 19 and working in construction for 12 years, he said he loves his job and the great benefits that go with it.

Wernsman said the forum was inspired by stories about rising college tuition prices and student debt, as well as an ongoing shortage of trades workers.

Around 60 percent of contractors are having difficulty finding skilled workers, according to the 2017 third quarter Commercial Construction Index by USG Corporation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The trades with the most reported worker scarcity in 2017 are concrete, electrical and masonry.

Nick Yates, a utility lineman from Illinois, said he went to college for a couple years but decided to take a break after changing majors. He said he wished someone had told him about trades options when he was 18.

Yates said he gets a sense of accomplishment from his job and helping people get their electricity service back after a big storm.

Recently his company sent 800 workers to Florida for hurricane relief. Though it means being away from home and working long hours, he said the work is rewarding — and the double-time pay is a nice bonus.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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