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The largest career fair of its kind in Northwest Arkansas returned for its second year in April, connecting more than 1,300 high school students interested in trade careers with employers eager to hire them.

Students participating in career fairDozens of construction contractors and related businesses filled the Jones Center campus during the My Future Construction Career Day and Industry Showcase on April 5. A variety of stations gave busloads of students the chance to try their hand at assembling lumber and laying bricks, connecting electrical fixtures and piping, even operating excavators and other heavy machinery in the parking lot.

In the meantime, employers also shared information about their careers, which offer high wages without the need for a college degree as well as opportunities for advancement and free training.

“They really handle the financial sides of things,” said Isaac Jessen, a junior from Gentry High School whose family has a strong blue-collar background and who said he was looking for “as many opportunities as I can have” during the event. “The trades are definitely a good option.”

Robert Baker, a senior at Gentry interested in plumbing, echoed the sentiment.

“They care,” he said of the employers present. “They’ll take care of you really well, which I appreciate.”

Joe Rollins, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s workforce development director, constantly works to connect students, school districts and employers throughout the region, including with industry roundtables, apprenticeships and resources through the CareersNWA website.

Build My Future is just one manifestation of those partnerships. This year’s event came on the heels of the Draft Day matching event held in March, and educators and employers have also begun traveling throughout the country to learn about best practices with the Council’s assistance.

Hundreds of well-paid construction trade jobs are open on any given day in Northwest Arkansas, and demand will only go up as the region continues to grow. Rollins said more than 50 exhibitors and 300 volunteers at Build My Future did an impressive job of bridging that gap.

“We’re moving the career awareness needle to something hands-on and tangible that students will remember,” he said, adding to everyone who contributed to the event: “Thank you for all that you do for your students.”

Last year’s Build My Future led to multiple successful hires of students after graduation, said Travis Keller, vice president of employee engagement at Kimbel Mechanical Systems, who attended again this year. He called it a great way to lay out what the company does while jumpstarting the mentorship and training that’s essential to every new worker.

“We want to give them all the information and tools of what it takes to be successful at Kimbel,” Keller said.