Career Day highlights ‘unique opportunity’ in construction fields

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On Oct. 30, at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Midstate Facility on New London Turnpike in East Greenwich, tradespeople, unions and representatives construction-related fields from all over the state attended the RIDOT Career Day in hopes of encouraging high school students to pursue work in a rapidly growing local construction industry.

“You guys have a unique opportunity to be part of an industry that’s growing faster than I’ve ever seen it,” Stephen Cardi II of Cardi Construction Industries told attendees during his opening remarks. “A top journeyman can make close to $100,000 – that’s in the pocket. And about twice that once you include benefits. It’s a well-paying industry.”

Students from high schools all over the state visited exhibits and demonstrations set up by representatives of different construction-related fields, such as National Grid, the Rhode Island Builders Association, Gem Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical Services and General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Among the event’s presenters was the New England Laborers’ Union/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy, which has been represented at the Career Day in years past. This year, members of the senior class demonstrated cutting with acetylene torches, used primarily in demolition, led by their teacher, Mike Perrotta.

Perrotta, a 19-year veteran of career and technical education, explained his strong support for the field.

“We need young men and women to build the infrastructure,” he said. “If everybody went to college, you wouldn’t be able to drive your car. We need students who are hands-on learners. This education’s very valuable. Plus, when they get out of here, when they graduate, they make a good pay.”

Perrotta said he does all he can to support his students and is always pleased when he meets up with them working in the field after graduation. He also said he enjoys teaching his students, then watching them pass their knowledge along to their peers.

Eighteen-year-old Keanu Lopez of Cranston assisted Perrotta in demonstrating the torch cutting on Career Day.

“I like the torches,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to expanding my knowledge this year some more.”

Lopez said he would like to attend further training after graduation and become a machine operator.

Jeremy Elgar, 17, of Central Falls, explained what he enjoyed most about his program.

“I like demolition,” he said. “I like it a lot.”

Elgar said he would like to explore becoming a machine operator as well.

Both Lopez and Elgar are scheduled to graduate in June 2020.

Dennis Curran, executive director of the Construction & Career Academy, said most students are prepared to join the New England Laborers’ Union immediately following graduation due to their specialized construction education. They can earn a minimum of $22 per hour plus full benefits right away.

“This charter school is a cooperative effort between Cranston Public Schools and the New England Laborers’ Union,” Curran said. The union, he stated, covers workers involved in heavy and highway construction.

“Our graduates will be working on the roads, they’ll be working on bridges, they’ll be working on basically any heavy or highway construction that happens in the state,” he said.

Curran also explained that all graduates from the construction program receive both OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 certificates, which cover the full range of health and safety guidelines that govern the industry. This distinction makes Construction & Career Academy graduates more marketable.

Curran explained that due to the propensity of a laborer to earn well over his or her lifetime, he calls jobs for which his Academy prepares students “green collar.”

“These kids are making good money,” he said.

Overall, Construction & Career Academy students who attended the RIDOT Career Day said it was valuable in helping them determine which specific fields they may want to explore upon graduation.

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