Little boys usually like trucks, but some big boys — and big girls — like them as well.
“I like playing with the big machines,” said 19-year-old Mechanicville High School senior Adam Zielnicki. “I loved playing with them as a kid.”
Zielnicki was in his element Thursday as he was among the hundreds of young men and women who got to see how to make careers out of moving those trucks and other equipment at the 12th annual Capital District Construction Career Days. The second day of the two-day event held at the Navy Operational Support Center gave young people a chance to learn about construction trades such as heavy equipment operators, carpenters, bricklayers, electrical workers, as well as construction management professionals.
“There’s a lot of opportunities. They make good pay,” Zielnicki said. “And there’s pretty much jobs for everyone.”
Zielnicki has obtained his commercial driver’s license through the F. Donald Myers Education Center of Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES.
About 1,000 students from 37 Capital Region high schools participated in the event. There were representatives from 30 local companies and labor organizations and the U.S. Air Force.
Mike Elmendorf, president and chief executive officer of Associated General Contractors, said the event is a great opportunity to reach out to future employees in the construction field. The economy is improving and he anticipates an increased demand for workers.
“You look around our community, our state, everything relates to construction. Somebody built it,” he said.
New York state in particular has an aging infrastructure with many roads and bridges in need of repair, according to Elmendorf. About one-third of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, he said.
Construction activity is increasing as the economy improves, and aging Baby Boomers are creating a big demand for senior housing, Elmendorf said. Industry professionals also say an aging construction labor force will require new workers.
Cmdr. Vincent Perry, commanding officer of the Navy Operational Support Center, said there is demand for people with construction trade skills in the military, pointing to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The hard part is rebuilding the bridges you just blew up,” he said.
Outside the Navy Operational Support Center, students in orange hard hats navigated through displays of various pieces of heavy construction equipment.
Scott Sobon, equipment operator instructor for the state Department of Transportation, was demonstrating how a special seat harness keeps people safely strapped in if they have a slow-speed crash. Students climbed in a cab that went down a track at 5 miles per hour to “crash” into a barrier.
The force of the impact knocked the helmets off some students’ heads but they were otherwise unharmed.
“See how the seat belt was keeping you in your seat?” Sobon said.
Chris Wade, equipment operator instructor, was showing off the snowplow truck. He said there are lots of opportunities with the state. People can get their foot in the door by taking temporary winter jobs that could lead to full-time work, he said.
“If you like driving, it’s a good gig,” he said.
Sixteen-year-old Zach Newfrock, a junior at Broadalbin-Perth High School, said he enjoyed looking at the different pieces of equipment and learning about jobs. He was thinking of a career in the armed services and construction. “There’s good money in it and you’re giving back to the community, helping build stuff,” he said.
Sarah Zaccagnino, 16, of Delmar, was attracted to a career as an electrician.
“I plan to be just like my father — a jack-of-all trades. He started me at 8 years old learning electrical work,” she said.
John Puglisi, an electrical trades teacher with Capital Region BOCES, said it’s great for students to get exposure to careers. At the BOCES program, students can earn up to five credits that are transferable to Hudson Valley Community College and SUNY Delhi.
“I like my kids to come here because it opens their minds to different things if they don’t want to go to college,” he said.