On the Job with Akeel King, Ryan Chang and Mike Xiong

  • Article by: LAURA FRENCH SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: October 15, 2012 - 10:38 AM

Akeel King plans to be a civil engineer. Ryan Chang and Mike Xiong are interested in architecture. All three spent last summer building a garage from scratch, learning everything from cement work to shingles. UnderConstruction provides six to eight weeks of paid summer work and learning. The Construction Careers Coalition sponsors the program, which completed its eighth summer in 2012. Funding comes from participating contractors and foundations, as well as the Holiday Lights in the Park event.

UnderConstruction has two goals: The first is to improve general work readiness. The other is to provide first-hand experience of the building trades to members of a generation more accustomed to pounding a keyboard than pounding nails. An experienced building trades worker supervises construction details, while a second mentor supports teamwork, attendance and other "soft" skills.

For Chang and Xiong, now juniors at Johnson High School, UnderConstruction was their first summer job. King, a student at St. Paul College, had worked in child care and maintenance, but had "zero work experience in construction." While Chang and Xiong are both "hands-on" types -- Chang took wood shop and Xiong says he's always the one who asks, "Can I assemble that?" when his parents buy a new desk -- they also acknowledge that in a technology-driven age, they and their peers don't have much experience with construction techniques.

In addition to the physical side of the job, King said there was blueprint reading ("although for a garage it was pretty simple") and math, converting feet to inches and working in fractions. Participants also earned an OSHA 10 certification, reflecting the program's emphasis on working safely.

Xiong and Chang both plan to sign up for UnderConstruction again next year, and they would recommend it to others. "There's lots of learning, but it's really fun," Chang said.

What's the most important thing you learned on the job?

Chang: Teamwork and communication.

Xiong: Communication.

King: I learned that I work best in a routine.

What's one important safety tip you learned?

King: If you get cement on your skin, it can burn you.

Xiong: Always wear a hard hat. A cat's paw tool slid down and hit me, and once I stood up and hit my head. I had my hard hat on.

Chang: With an extension ladder, you have to get the right angle -- how far up versus how far back. It has to be properly leveled. The ladder was fun. The scaffolding scared me at first -- it was rickety, but it locked into place.

What part of the work was most fun?

King: The hands-on work, cutting and hammering.

Chang: Learning everybody's names and learning to use the equipment.

Xiong: The roof -- putting the plywood on the roof, and the shingles. That's the first and last time I ever want to do roofing. Shingles are hard to work with if they get too hot or too cold.

What was the least fun part of the job?

Chang: The heat.

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