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Rhode Island High School Students Gather to Investigate Career Ideas

Tue June 10, 2008 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla

Construction Career Days (CCD) returned to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT) Midstate Facility in East Greenwich for two days in mid-May. Now in its eighth year, the event allows hands-on exploration of construction equipment and tools for approximately 1,000 students from 45 technical and high schools throughout Rhode Island.

The purpose of Construction Career Days is to expose high school students to the transportation trades industry, with the hope of attracting them to jobs in the field. Annually, there is a national need to fill 250,000 job openings in the construction industry.

“Today there is a demand for qualified, skilled workers in the construction industry and tomorrow the demand will be even greater,” RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. “Because many of these skills are needed in the construction and maintenance of transportation-related infrastructure, it makes perfect sense for RIDOT to be involved in Construction Career Days.”

Construction Career Days is one of the many events that took place during National Transportation Week (May 12 to 17). RIDOT was a proud partner with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the University of Rhode Island Transportation Center in sponsoring this event.

Special Truck Simulator

A new feature at Construction Career Days was a unique truck simulator that students were able to try. The unit features a console with wrap-around screens and the same steering wheel, pedals and transmission shifter found in large trucks.

The simulator can be programmed so the user can “drive” a variety of trucks such as snowplows, box trucks, fire trucks and city buses. It has more than 200 engine and transmission combinations and can simulate driving in day, night and in any type of adverse weather conditions. The simulator records the operator’s experience, which can be reviewed later to examine a driver’s expertise and ability to drive in a fuel-efficient manner.

RIDOT used the simulator first in April at its Highway & Bridge Maintenance Headquarters in Warwick, R.I., for snowplow and other truck driving simulations. The city of Pawtucket, R.I., followed that demonstration by using the simulator for sanitation truck driver training two days later and it was on hand for both CCD events.

Students at CCD were able to operate a wide range of construction equipment such as backhoes, excavators, pavers and bucket trucks. Inside the Midstate facility, there were a variety of booths and tables to showcase welding, plumbing, electrical, landscaping and other disciplines. Also, a number of technical schools and colleges attended to recruit potential working students.

Other sponsors included Construction Industries of Rhode Island, New England Laborers Tri Funds, Local 57 Operating Engineers, Beacon Mutual Insurance Company, Junior Achievement, Rhode Island Public Works Association, Rhode Island School-to-Career, Rhode Island Builders Association and the Rhode Island Technology Transfer Center.

College Gets in the Mix

In addition, RIDOT hosted its 2nd Annual Engineering Career Day one day before CCD events. These additional construction industry-related sessions were held at the University of Rhode Island Engineering Department in Kirk and Wales Halls in South Kingstown. URI has been the host for CCD for seven years and counting.

The half-day program provided a hands-on learning opportunity for high school freshmen and sophomores to try out different areas of engineering, including highway design, environmental engineering, and bridge and geotechnical technologies.

Approximately 125 high school students attended from the following schools: Cranston East High School, Central Falls High School, East Bay Met School, East Providence Career and Technical Center, E3 Academy High School, GAP Program/Talent Development, The College Crusade of Rhode Island, The Met Center, Times 2 Academy, and West Warwick High School.

The day was sponsored by RIDOT along with FHWA, the URI Transportation Center, the URI College of Engineering and the Rhode Island Consulting Engineers. It was part of six events sponsored during National Transportation Week.

Mass. Students Dig in, Too

In Taunton, Mass. during the same week, students also came with hard hats and harder ambitions. They left with some knowledge of how to work some tools and the possible hope of doing this for a living.

Some 60 juniors and seniors from Taunton High School, Bristol-Plymouth Regional Vocational School to Work program in Taunton and Bristol County Agricultural High School in Dighton attended an extension of Construction Career Day in May at New England Laborer’s Training Academy in Hopkinton, Mass.

Led by career counselors at Taunton Area School to Career Inc., Kerrie Enos and Charlie Lopresti, the goal of these advanced high school technology and vocational students was to familiarize themselves with career opportunities available in the construction and engineering trades.

“It was an excellent opportunity for them to sample some of the heavy equipment and work on a construction site,” said Lopresti. “The teachers and the students appreciated the program greatly.”

The five-dozen Taunton area students were just one-tenth of some 600 students from 15 high schools from around the state who took part in the annual Construction Career Day.

Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Education, construction/engineering industries throughout Massachusetts, Massachusetts Highway Department, Federal Highway Administration, Museum of Science and New England Laborers Unions, the students met and saw the following engineering programs:

• Representatives from engineering- and construction-related college programs.

• Displays from construction companies and labor unions.

• The Engineering Challenge, with 10 engineering design/prototype fabrication activities. Winning students could secure money grants for their school’s technology education and vocational programs.

And experienced the following construction activities, under careful direction:

• Pouring concrete slabs

• Arc welding and gas metal cutting

• Brick laying and setting pavers

• Carpentry

• Tree climbing

• Cable/fiber optics

They also operated heavy construction equipment. Students received one-on-one training in the operation of the following types of equipment: asphalt surfacer and roller, crane, hole borer, backhoe, crane simulator, jack hammer, bucket arm, Jaws of Life and geotechnical core borer.

“They can’t wait to do it again next year, “added Lopresti. “All 600 of them.” CEG

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