Kids Building Wisconsin gives tykes a chance to imagine a constructive career
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Many baby boomers and Gen Xers were raised on Tonka trucks, Lincoln Logs, and Erector sets, all of which suggested to kids that building things was fun.
As those once-ubiquitous toys have given way to video games and Disney DVDs, the skills gap in the construction trades has continued to widen.
Coincidence? Maybe, but the folks behind Kids Building Wisconsin think that giving children a sneak peek at the construction industry might plant a few seeds to get them interested in the trades later on.
“It’s not a hard sell, it’s just ‘come out and have fun and kind of see what we do,’ and at the end of the day, if people are interested by that, that’s great.” — Patrick Stern, Kids Building Wisconsin
Originally launched and sponsored by Fitchburg’s Tri-North Builders, Kids Building Wisconsin debuted last year after Tri-North staff members began brainstorming ideas for addressing the skills gap in the construction trades.
“As an industry, we have an employment issue where there aren’t enough people coming into the industry,” said Patrick Stern, president of the board of Kids Building Wisconsin and an account controller with Tri-North. “We know this isn’t a short-term fix, but it was a way to get families, kids of all ages, to see that construction is something that’s out there, in a fun way.”
Last year, the event drew around 1,500 kids, and this year organizers are hoping to top 2,000. The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 9 at McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg, currently has 20 exhibitors and counting, up from 13 in its inaugural year.
Last year, said Stern, the event featured a simulator that’s used to train operators to control equipment such as backhoes and road graders. Stern noted that it was an easy way to get today’s kids, raised on video games, to connect with the industry.
Other activities included clay pot painting, a “chalk city,” and a carpentry contest.
This year, said Stern, some of the exhibitors are stepping up their game.
“The metalworkers are going to bring in a self-contained welding unit, so the kids can actually weld in a box where they’re safe from it,” said Stern.