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LEE COUNTY | Career trade show inspiring students to build their futures

Aiming to address the workforce shortage in the construction industry
Posted at 6:55 PM, Oct 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-26 18:55:27-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The sound of drills and heavy machinery filled the air as more than three-hundred students came out to JetBlue park to get their hands dirty - gaining experience in many facets of the construction industry at the 3rd annual Build My Future Lee County Career Trade Show.

For Zio Quinones, a junior at South Fort Myers High School, her journey into the world of trades work began unexpectedly. "Freshman year, I got put in a class – which is masonry with Howard Myers at South Fort Myers High School – and I wasn't so sure about that class because I didn't pick it out personally. But, I stayed in the class, and I think it was a great decision to do that," said Quinones.

Her involvement in the class led her to masonry competitions and exposed her to a wide range of learning opportunities not usually found in high school. Three years later, that experience might pave the way towards fulfilling career. Quinones expressed, "I really like having that hands-on experience, and I think I do want to pursue something in the trades from that."

Quinones believes trade-shows like this have a bit impact in showing students that a career in construction could be a great option for them, as she emphasized, "Getting out here has young people seeing like, 'Oh, college isn't the only option' – there are other things you can do."

Phillip Ford, the Executive Vice President of the Lee Building Industry Association, helped organize the event and noted, "Kids can get hands-on experience, you know, hammers, nails, driving loaders, whatever – so, we're having a lot of fun." With many communities facing a workforce shortage in the building industry, Ford says events like these provide a helpful step towards addressing this challenge.

Andrew Hopkinson, a career and technical education teacher, highlighted the importance of introducing students to the world of trades, stating, "We need trades in this area, and this opens their eyes to the trades that are available. Sometimes they just want to work with their hands, so this is a perfect opportunity for them to see what's out there."

After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of bus drivers, the trade show returned for its third year, offering a wide variety of vendors and activities for students. These activities ranged from learning how to build a bridge, fix an A/C system, paint drywall, to operating heavy machinery.

"There are so many opportunities for kids. This is just a way to introduce them. We're happy to be back, and we look forward to continuing this for forever, hopefully,” said Ford, while reflecting on the event.

As the event wrapped up, the organizers expressed their gratitude for the turnout and said they already look forward to next year's show - to continue inspiring the next generation of builders and tradespeople.