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BizCast 50: 1400+ Students to Learn the Trades with Build My Future

Episode 50

1400+ Students to Learn the Trades with Build by Future

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).


It was a social media buzz for companies last year when more than 700 high school students came to an event called Build My Future, at the La Crosse Area Builders Association, promoting all jobs in the trades — not just construction. Every booth was interactive — from removing tires to operating a backhoe. Joining the podcast to preview this year’s Build My Future event are Andy Olson of River City Truck & Trailer, Tena Bailey with the La Crosse Area Builders Association, and Adam Kirschner with Energy Line International. The three talked how Build My Future aims to expose students to various trades and careers, building off the success from last year, the importance of hands-on activities for students, and the need for exhibitors and sponsors for the upcoming event. They also emphasize the value of apprenticeships, the different pathways available in the trades, and the benefits of participating in the event for both students and businesses.

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

[00:00:00] Andy Olson: This event is awesome because it gets so many. Students exposed to the trades. I recognized a long time ago that with the tight budgets within the high schools that they’re not getting that exposure to these careers,

[00:00:13] Andy Olson: and being able to explore those careers on a hands-on basis, is the way to introduce these careers to students.

[00:00:21] Vicki Markussen: Welcome to BizCast, Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from BizNews. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. We have three guests today. This is actually the first repeat guests that I’ve had. So it’s exciting because it means that you guys had a great event last year.

[00:00:41] Vicki Markussen: So build my future. We have representatives from the Builders Association, but I’m going to have them. because one person has a lot of important title. So go ahead, Tina. We’ll start with

[00:00:51] Tena Bailey: you. I am Tina Bailey with the La Crosse Area Builders Association. I am the executive officer.

[00:00:58] Adam Kirschner: Good morning, Vicki. I am Adam Kirschner.

[00:01:01] Adam Kirschner: I’m with Energy Line International. I am the owner of that company.

[00:01:05] Andy Olson: Good morning. My name is Andy Olson. I am the Director of the Wisconsin Institute of Transportation Technology, which is a program with River States Truck and Trailer and the La Crosse Truck Center Dealerships.

[00:01:17] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic. Build My Future.

[00:01:19] Vicki Markussen: Who has the little elevator speech to say what that is in a succinct

[00:01:23] Adam Kirschner: way? I can do that. Build My Future is a, an event. It’s our second annual event, and it is designed to bring in students from high schools and entry-level college students to explore the trades, and we’re talking all trades. This is a one-day event.

[00:01:42] Adam Kirschner: It is what I would equate it to as a career day, but it is a hands-on career day. So students can expect to see exhibitors and vendors from Colleges, universities, local businesses, manufacturing facilities, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, all the different trades, and when we think about trades, it’s also medical and food and really anything where You would need some kind of technical training in order to take part in that

[00:02:15] Vicki Markussen: career.

[00:02:16] Vicki Markussen: There was a lot of buzz from last year’s event. I saw it all over social media, so many companies happy with the student turnout, the engagement that happened. Why do you think that show is such a success? Go

[00:02:30] Tena Bailey: ahead, Tina. I am going to say that one, the exhibitors had those hands-on events. They had those hands-on exhibits, I should say, and what I heard from the instructors was, there’s nothing like this in our area, and that was the key.

[00:02:49] Tena Bailey: There is nothing like this for our students in this area. So that’s why even talking to the instructors six months after the event, they’re still praising the event. I just had a conversation last week with somebody saying that was a great event. The students were not on their phones. They were engaged.

[00:03:11] Tena Bailey: They were respectful. So thank you to the parents for having good students that came. And everybody, the volunteers, the exhibitors, everybody had a good experience with the event because everybody was just busy and hands on and getting great experiences with the students and some hired after that event as well.

[00:03:32] Tena Bailey: that’s the ultimate goal. That is

[00:03:33] Vicki Markussen: the goal. And then to plant seeds for the future hires as well. Andy, I know you were part of the event last year. Why was it so valuable for you? What did you experience?

[00:03:44] Andy Olson: The experiences I had really involved with having that hands-on activity and being able to talk to the next generation of workers that are going to come in.

[00:03:53] Andy Olson: A lot of these students have not. been able to experience these hands-on activities. We’ve had students that never changed a tire because that was the activity that we did as we were taking tires on and off a vehicle, and some of them have never done that. And then we’re using electric impacts, so some of them never had the opportunity to use a tool like that, so they used to do it by hand.

[00:04:14] Andy Olson: So providing an opportunity for them to experience different things that they may not have been able to experience in high school, and being able to talk to them and ask them questions and a lot of times we would get questions not involved with the activity, like they just ask questions dealing with emerging technology because this generation is very technology-driven and how does our program fit into what they’re seeing

[00:04:39] Adam Kirschner: on the

[00:04:39] Vicki Markussen: internet.

[00:04:40] Vicki Markussen: Adam, talk about what’s planned for this year.

[00:04:42] Adam Kirschner: This year, I think we’re going to have a more diverse group of exhibitors. as well. Last year we did have I think La Crosse Truck Center was one that was like tearing down an engine and putting it back together. And then we had Wisconsin Building Supply and Lautz Lassig General Contracting, building a shed cutting with the saws, and we had Wieser Brothers pouring concrete behind the building.

[00:05:07] Adam Kirschner: Before we go on, I should probably send a shout-out to the Omni Center and the City of Onalaska because it was really awesome how they let us pretty much take over their entire facility for a day with an in-kind trade. And this year, they’ve extended even more space to us, so we have the entire parking lot and some of the fields and potentially the building behind, and But to get back to your question the diversity of the exhibitors will be increased.

[00:05:34] Adam Kirschner: We have more manufacturing involved. And I believe we have some trade unions as well that will be doing some. I think, didn’t they build a bridge or something last year? There’ll be more of that type of work as well.

[00:05:50] Vicki Markussen: Tina, how do you see the success of this? What do you measure it based on?

[00:05:55] Tena Bailey: It really came down to, I think you had mentioned it before, Vicki, of the comments after.

[00:06:02] Tena Bailey: One, one of the students that was interviewed at one of the TV station reports, he came up, and he was by the mini excavator, and he’s yeah, there’s just a couple of switches and buttons so it should be pretty easy, until he sat down, and he actually did, and he realized that it wasn’t as easy. as he thought it was gonna be.

[00:06:21] Tena Bailey: And so there’s one thing about the respect for the trades that, as business owners you do every day. And you think, oh, it’s really nothing, but it is really something, and it’s amazing what you do every day. And so to be proud of that and let them experience that and let them see how. difficult.

[00:06:41] Tena Bailey: Sometimes it is, but then how easy it can be after training. The other thing that I got was parents reaching out to me personally saying, my students came home, and they were just talking about this event that they went to today. It was awesome. That was their dinner conversation. My own student came home and told us about it.

[00:07:05] Tena Bailey: So that speaks volumes when your high school student comes home and actually talks about something that happened at school without you prodding and poking and saying what. What is it? Give me more. No, they were offering that information, so that does it for me.

[00:07:23] Vicki Markussen: And in terms of student engagement, so obviously that was your kickoff year last year.

[00:07:28] Vicki Markussen: You probably went a little conservative in terms of your invitations out to make sure you had a successful event. What does this year look like?

[00:07:37] Tena Bailey: We have over doubled our registration. Last year, we did have 13 inches of snow. prior to the event. That was a challenge. We did end up with 600 students at the event, but this year we already have 1400 students registered, hoping for another actually 100 more students to get registered for the event, and We need the support from the exhibitors to make sure that they are busy during the time that they’re there from nine until two and the schools want to get there as soon as possible so they can spend as much time as possible at the event.

[00:08:18] Vicki Markussen: So 1, 400 students that can’t just be from the same schools getting more students.

[00:08:23] Tena Bailey: Correct. That is the other key is we service five counties. For our La Crosse Area Builders Association, but we’ve reached even beyond those counties that we serve. So we are going into MN, we are going down to Soldier’s Grove, We’re going all around, so just consider a very large area. So students are coming from All distances, so we can get exhibitors from all distances because they may be in your backyard and may be able to do a summer job for you too.

[00:08:55] Tena Bailey: So come join us.

[00:08:57] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, more the merrier. Now you just need the exhibitors, right

[00:09:01] Adam Kirschner: Adam? Yes, we definitely do, and there’s a few different ways that you could register your company to attend. And one of the ways is go to the La Crosse Area Builders Association website, which is LABAonline. com, and click on Build My Future in the Events tab.

[00:09:21] Adam Kirschner: You will find the registration forms neatly placed there. There’s also a video that recaps last year’s event. That Amber from Hazel Media put together for us. It’s a fantastic video. And then the second way to register would be to simply stop by the Builders Association office and fill out a form.

[00:09:40] Adam Kirschner: Before registering a business, start thinking about what your hands-on activity would be if you’re not sure what to do. For example, last year we had some exhibitors that said, I, I have a manufacturing facility. I think Duratec was one of them. They’re like, what do we do to promote our business?

[00:10:00] Adam Kirschner: Because everything we have is big machines and equipment inside of a facility. How can we put on a simple activity? And so we’ve put our minds together and they ended up putting or creating some like a little electric diode light things and it was just a small snippet of what they do as a bigger part of a process.

[00:10:19] Adam Kirschner: And we have a list of some really great ideas on what your business could do for an activity to help get you going. Another way to get involved is just volunteer. With 1500 students running around, we’re serving lunches we’re handing out protective gear and t shirts and just trying to help answer the questions and make things flow if a line gets too full, we can move them to a, another exhibit and vice versa.

[00:10:47] Adam Kirschner: So there’s a lot of ways to get involved with this event. The last thing I’ll say about getting involved is if you’re a really small company, say like one person, and you want to be involved, but you’re not sure how you would have an exhibit by yourself, We have opportunities where you could partner with another company because it’s not just about promoting your business, it’s about promoting the trade or the skill that goes with your business.

[00:11:15] Adam Kirschner: So you could, say if you were a plumber, you could connect with, we could help connect you with another plumber. And then you could run an exhibit together.

[00:11:22] Vicki Markussen: That’s a great transition to Andy. Andy, you’re with, let’s just say, a trade that you wouldn’t think is a part of the building industry.

[00:11:33] Vicki Markussen: However, everybody needs a truck. Trust me, you never have a contractor without a truck. So explain how you guys put thought into what you did at the Build My Future last year and how critical that just that little exercise is to getting interest into what you do.

[00:11:53] Andy Olson: Yeah Thinking about events, and this year all three dealerships are going to be there, so we are going to have a very large presence within the event this year, but when I look at an event like this and career exploration it’s how can we make any an activity that isn’t days worth of hauling and stuff So there’s a little bit of pre work to go with that.

[00:12:16] Andy Olson: They do have forklifts and stuff available So right now we’re in the planning stages of this year’s event to figure out what we’re going to do And it will involve a forklift. I’ll let you know that So last year it was, the tire changing thing last year was very easy to do. Easy to put together.

[00:12:35] Andy Olson: And it was an activity that, like I said, a lot of students may not have been able to do in their high schools. In the diesel industry, there’s no diesel programs within the high school. Being able to focus on that, like you said, a lot of trucks are out there, a lot of semis, a lot of pickup trucks in the trade industry.

[00:12:54] Andy Olson: So just being able to Let students experience that and see if that’s something they want to explore

[00:13:00] Tena Bailey: further. And let’s

[00:13:01] Vicki Markussen: do a little bit deeper dive of, most people see a truck and have no idea what your business does to understand, okay, you’re not just a salesperson selling a truck. Can you explain what the need is for your workforce at your business?

[00:13:18] Andy Olson: Yeah. So our greatest need right now is diesel technicians. Being able to show that, and typically that is an entry point into the industry, is as an entry level technician. But then you also have the advancement opportunities to get into management, to get into sales lots of different positions within the dealerships to be able to grow.

[00:13:40] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic, and so this is an opportunity to get in front of the students that probably already have a mindset of, I like, I want to work with my hands, and so this is a good opportunity to explore what that looks like.

[00:13:52] Adam Kirschner: Yes. Yeah. Now this event is it’s a career, more of a career fair career day, not necessarily a job fair.

[00:14:00] Adam Kirschner: Yep. Yeah, but I do want to tell our listeners that last year we had some companies that have applications on hand at this event, and they were actively recruiting summer work and apprenticeships and such, and that, that’s very welcome. That’s the point of this. The reason why we brought this to the community is to promote the trades and get more of the young people involved.

[00:14:25] Vicki Markussen: Because some careers you can start just coming straight out of high school, others you need a degree, and so it really is the, it’s the true exploration, right? If you’re interested in doing this, there are a couple different pathways, I’m assuming there’s Tina, some education organizations there, or what does it look like to connect them with what that career looks like?

[00:14:48] Tena Bailey: We do have Minnesota State College Tech and we will also have Western Technical College. We are looking at branching out a little bit further than that So we’re still making those connections as well. And sometimes, like Adam mentioned, it’s apprenticeship program. So it’s connecting with the businesses prior to connecting to the colleges because the businesses sets up that apprenticeship program that is needed.

[00:15:12] Tena Bailey: And the training that is needed. So there’s a lot of different pathways. And so it’s just figuring out what you want to do. Then we can take, they can get help from there. Yeah. I’m

[00:15:26] Vicki Markussen: guessing some of the career advisors are probably a little busier after that event, trying to connect people with what they, what that pathway looks like, but the interesting thing that you mentioned too, about apprenticeships is, that I know companies that use that as their.

[00:15:41] Vicki Markussen: trial to say, okay, let’s bring you in and if you’re great, we’re going to keep you on or okay, this was great, move on to the next thing. And so it is a great opportunity for that experience. So you, do you have certain gaps in terms of your exhibitors that you’re really trying to recruit?

[00:15:59] Adam Kirschner: I would say our biggest gaps, it is build my future.

[00:16:04] Adam Kirschner: So a lot of it, you think our exhibitors would mostly be builders. And that is actually one of our bigger gaps, and the reason why it’s a bigger gap is because they’re all so busy. So for them to take time and sit down and actually spend a day putting on an exhibit or, planning an activity, it’s become quite a challenge for them.

[00:16:24] Adam Kirschner: Winter being the slower time, and we actually finally have some winter now the builders have had a chance to slow down this week, and I’ve reached out to a few of them to see if they’re interested in exhibiting at Build My Future, and there is the interest there. It’s just getting them to commit.

[00:16:41] Adam Kirschner: And a lot of them don’t know what to do as well, like I said earlier about the activity, and we can definitely help them with that. And

[00:16:48] Tena Bailey: electrical was another area that was highly sought after last year, and we did have the electrical union there but with 1, 500 students.

[00:17:01] Tena Bailey: You need to have more than one. Yeah. And it’s not a bad thing because they may do things differently or they may do the same thing, but they’re in just a different spot. Plumbing was another thing that was brought up too. So those particular trades were looked for last year. The lines for the mini excavators for running those machines.

[00:17:21] Tena Bailey: And those were long. And not very long. When I say long, I meant five students, but it takes time to get them in and out and all that too. Anything and everything. And even if we already have it, it’s okay to have more than one. of something. Sure.

[00:17:37] Vicki Markussen: And it’s just more exposure because there’s also the variety of businesses, right?

[00:17:42] Vicki Markussen: So you can have somebody doing the exact same thing, but the culture and their need is very different as well. So it’s just another exposure level. So, you’re gearing up. What’s between now and the event date? What needs to happen?

[00:17:57] Tena Bailey: We need to fill the space. We need those exhibitors to fill the space, and we are looking for a few more sponsorships if possible, but we’re going to be printing t-shirts with all those logos and sponsor names on the back, so that’s where we have a deadline of February 14th for sign-ups.

[00:18:15] Tena Bailey: We have that same deadline for exhibitors. We have a little bit more leeway, but we also have to get it planned. We also have to put them in place because basically it’s similar to our home show, but it’s not the same exact thing because we’re, tell us what space you need, and we’re going to.

[00:18:31] Tena Bailey: We’re going to make you, make it work. Inside, outside, we’re going to make it work. And so that’s where it’s a big puzzle for us at the office to put together. So the more information we have to start with, we can put that puzzle together faster and more efficiently. So we appreciate all of the information ahead of time, and we can work out extra details as far as what exactly you’re going to do.

[00:18:55] Tena Bailey: We can help with that too. But that can come a little bit later as well. So we’re really looking at that middle of February kind of deadline. I hate to throw it out there as a deadline, but it’s a soft deadline, but it would just help with planning purposes.

[00:19:10] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic. I’m going to change my, I have a common closer question that I always ask, but I’m going to change it a little bit for you guys. So it’s more appropriate. Cause it’s normally what makes you passionate about what you do. So we’ll switch it to what makes you passionate about this event. So we’ll start with you, Andy.

[00:19:26] Andy Olson: This event is awesome because it gets so many. Students exposed to the trades. I recognized a long time ago that with the tight budgets within the high schools that they’re not getting that exposure to these careers, which are awesome careers. A lot of people retire from these careers and do quite well.

[00:19:45] Andy Olson: And being able to explore those careers on a hands-on basis, not just a talk is the way to introduce these careers to students.

[00:19:54] Adam Kirschner: Adam? For me, it’s an education experience. I have a degree in teaching, and a Wisconsin teaching license. And I also have an extensive background in the trades.

[00:20:04] Adam Kirschner: Twenty-three years working in the trades. And bridging that connection between the education piece and the trades is what drives me to make this event successful.

[00:20:16] Vicki Markussen: It’s a great combination of your skill sets. Yeah. Tina.

[00:20:20] Tena Bailey: I like the idea of helping the students. Find their pathway. And it might not be forever position that they find, but it gives them the opportunity to look at different things that are available to them.

[00:20:36] Tena Bailey: And the other piece is that they might DeSoto High School had a great story. There was a female that came back after the last year’s event, and she said to the instructor, I want to be on the list. For next year, right away. And she signed up for the tech class, so it was not necessarily that she got into the trade right away because she’s still in high school, but she also signed up for a tech class at the high school level to learn more about because this is a lifelong skill as well that I wish as a high school student I would have taken more of those classes and didn’t.

[00:21:12] Tena Bailey: And so I think for any of our students, this is just a very positive thing. Thing for life. Yep. And I think it’s just a great thing to be able to offer to all of our students, and we need help to do it. Yep.

[00:21:28] Vicki Markussen: So we have been talking about Build My Future. It is coming up April 24th. And, they are seeking sponsors, they are seeking exhibitors, don’t let the lack of ideas for how to promote your trade be a barrier, but sign up either as a sponsor or an exhibitor.

[00:21:47] Vicki Markussen: You’ve been listening to BizCast, Greater La Crosse. This is Vicki Markussen. We’ll catch you next week.



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