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Detroit — Wearing safety glasses and ear muffles, Fantasia Jackson carefully held a nail gun and fired it into a large wood board during a demonstration Tuesday at the Sachse Construction Academy in Eastern Market.

As her fellow classmates from Northwestern High School took turns working with the nail gun some appeared more natural at it than others. 

“You’ve got to push hard on it,” said Jackson, a 14-year-old sophomore. 

More than 500 Detroit-area high school students gathered in Shed 3 in Eastern Market to participate in hands-on demonstrations with 35 skilled contractors Tuesday during the construction academy, which is in its fourth year. The contractors included construction trades involving masonry, tiling and roofing.  

For the first time this year, the event includes a skilled trades job fair for 18-to-25-year-olds.

The skilled trades industry faces a shortage of workers both nationally and locally as older workers retire. Events like the construction academy are designed to help spark interest in young people looking for a career, said Todd Sachse, CEO of Sachse Construction.

“Our industry needs skilled trades,” he said. “There’s just not enough. We can’t get our work done fast enough with enough skill as we need to be able to do. Selfishly, I want to encourage people. Selflessly, we believe that there’s a lot of opportunity for Detroit young men and women.

"College is not for everybody," Sachse said. "Just because somebody doesn’t go to college doesn’t mean they can’t have a successful, vibrant, engaging career. The average electrician, the average plumber, the average carpenter makes more money than the average architect, so it is an incredible career and I think a lot of young men and women don’t realize that. Part of it is to expose them to that opportunity.”

Sachse Construction and Junior Achievement of Southeast Michigan partnered with Home Depot, Shurtape and Carhartt to provide the event, which was free to the students and schools.

Jose Villarreal, academic interventionist for Breithaupt Career and Technical Center in Detroit, brought 11 students to the event. He said opportunities like the academy can change the trajectory of the students’ lives.

“It really blows me away to see how the industry is really reaching out the younger population to draw them into the skilled trades,” he said.

Programs and organizations involved in the event include Detroit at Work, Going PRO in Michigan, Center for Employment Opportunities, Emerging Industries Training Institute, SER Metro Detroit, Grow Detroit’s Young Talent and Youthbuild Workforce Education & Technology.

One of the contractors providing a hands-on demonstration was Keith Bilbey, co-owner of Pro-Touch Construction in Lake Orion. He set up the large board with the nail guns.

“Most people are afraid of the guns,” he said. “This gets people a little more used to seeing the guns work safely.”

Bilbey said he sees the shortage of young people in the skilled trades industry. He says some might not want to do the physical work.

“It’s a hard job,” he said. “It’s a little demanding.”

Detroiter Kwon Parham-Jenkins, 23, said he's not afraid of hard work. He was among dozens of job seekers who met with construction industry employers Tuesday afternoon. He wore brown slacks and a yellow dress shirt for the occasion. 

"I dressed up," he said. "I'm just trying to stand out."

Parham-Jenkins said he makes minimum wage clearing land bank houses through the Center for Employment Opportunities. He's hoping to make more money to support his girlfriend and 5-year-old son.

"I don't mind working hard as long as I'm making better pay ..." he said. "I've got to make an example. Show (my son) you've got to work for what you want."

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN

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