Brownstown students learn about benefits of trades jobs

BROWNSTOWN — Driving on U.S. 50 just west of Seymour, a Force Construction Co. Inc. employee passing the Rose Acre Farms corporate office could beam with pride knowing their company designed and built that.

The Columbus-based company also is a contractor for the widening of Interstate 65 from two to three lanes and is building the Midwest headquarters and production facility for Ninth Avenue Foods in Columbus.

In the past, Force Construction built the Centra Credit Union corporate headquarters in Columbus, did an expansion of Austin Tri-Hawk Automotive Inc. and completed work for Cummins Inc., Aisin and Toyota.

That information recently was shared during a visit with nearly 170 Brownstown Central High School students. Nine company leaders spoke about their jobs in hopes it would spark interest in the construction and trades field.

While Force Construction didn’t build that school or the auditorium where the students gathered, Dale Wernke said it took the same type of employees from a construction company coming together to build it, and they are proud of what they accomplished, too.

“That sense of pride, it is absolutely there for a lifetime, and then you look back and you go, ‘That’s quite a legacy,’” said Wernke, an equal employment opportunity officer and project accountant for Force Construction.

“There is an incredible amount of pride in the union craftsmen, and rightfully so,” he said. “You look at structures that are around for hundreds of years and you go, ‘Wow! Somebody knew what they were doing.’ It’s a neat, neat thing.”

As Wernke and his co-workers talked to the BCHS students — from freshmen to seniors — they realized some of them plan to go to college, some will enter the military and some are undecided about their future after high school.

Wernke said he doesn’t want to discourage people from going to college because teachers, nurses and other professionals are needed, but college isn’t for everybody. Maybe they want to enter the workforce, potentially the construction industry, and through that, they can pursue an apprenticeship or further their education and make good money, enjoy what they are doing and learn lifelong skills.

“We have made several presentations to several schools as well as gone to several job fairs just to try to make the kids aware,” Wernke said. “It’s really all about exposure because with all due respect, I feel like there has been a steerage away from skilled trades for the kids for a lot of years, and the skilled trade unions are really starting to suffer as a result.”

Many of the experienced union workers are reaching retirement age, so he said it’s important for high school-age students to know about these types of jobs and maybe they could follow that path.

“It is hard work. This is not a bed of roses. This is a great opportunity for all of you,” Ron Morin, a business agent for the cement masons/finishers union for Force Construction, told the students. “All of the work, no matter what work you do or you choose to do, it’s honorable. … If you can learn a skilled trade, you can take it with you no matter where you go in the United States. You have to make a choice whether you want to do this type of work.”

Morin said he comes from a strong union family and made the choice a long time ago to follow in their footsteps.

“Who is going to replace us?” he asked the students. “What do you want out of life? What do you want to do? It’s your choice on the decision that you’re going to make that’s going to affect your life. All trades, it’s everybody working together. Just ask yourself where do you want to be when you’re 25, 30, 35.”

Brian Sylva, business development manager for Force Construction, said when he was the students’ age, he had no idea what he was going to do after high school. He wound up going to college but later started working for Force.

“When I graduated high school, I didn’t know how to get into the commercial union industry,” he said. “I probably honestly would have gone that route but didn’t know how. It wasn’t emphasized then.”

Even in the construction industry, he said there are office positions to help with designing and building projects, including architects, engineers and project managers. Those types of people are needed, too.

Sylva said he liked enlightening the students so they know what opportunities are out there in the industry.

“It’s such a great trade to get into,” he said.

Oh, and construction jobs aren’t just for men.

While the industry has historically and traditionally been a male-dominated industry, Wernke said that’s beginning to change.

Take Tara Stromatt, for example. She completed the apprenticeship program last fall and was promoted to a lead person and is a laborer journey person for Force Construction.

“As a female in the construction industry, Tara has men working for her,” Wernke said.

Wernke also let the students know they need to do three things once they start a construction job: Show up to work and show respect, be willing to learn a trade and be safe and drug-free.

The recent program at BCHS happened because Force Construction reached out to the school, and business teacher Robin Perry said she felt like that was information the students needed to know.

She reached out to other teachers, and Ashley Shoemaker, Dan Schwartz and Blake Hackman agreed to have their students participate, too.

After the Force Construction employees shared information to the group, the students split up and went around the auditorium with a sheet of paper and asked the employees questions and had them sign it.

Sophomore Ashton Durham said he has thought about entering the construction industry after high school.

“I would try to look into it more to see if I like it,” he said. “You’re making good money and being successful instead of having a job that isn’t paying much money. I would enjoy having money in the future for when I retire to go on vacation and for family.”

He appreciated the opportunity to learn about the different areas within the industry.

“There are a lot of them,” Durham said. “It would be hard to choose between some of them. They are all good jobs, and there are a lot of things you can learn out of them. It just requires a hard worker mostly. The payments and the benefits were really good, so I’d definitely look into it.”

For seniors Brayden Polly and Jonathon Garvey, neither had thought about a trades job before the recent program.

Afterwards, though, their perspective changed.

“I’d say I would be a little more interested with pay and benefits,” Polly said. “I had no idea what all the construction industry actually had for me. I just had one idea of construction, but now, I talked to eight different people that do eight different things, so I have a very good idea of it. It definitely gives me an option if I don’t know exactly what I want to do.”

Garvey said he wants to become a lawyer, but he also has worked construction jobs in past summers, so he gained some insight into the industry.

“It’s hard work, I’ll say that,” he said, smiling.

Learning more specifics from the Force Construction officials gave him even more insight.

“I get what they are talking about because I’ve been through some of it,” Garvey said. “I did everything, and then these guys are just generalized to certain specific things. It would be something that you are set on that one position, you would get to learn it and you would be way better at it than having to do everything. It definitely would be a good opportunity for a lot of people. It’s a good living.”