By Brenno Carillo – Daytona Beach News-Journal
A career in construction may not be the path most students take in their higher education journey, but last week more than 3,000 students across Central Florida explored the possibility.
The Central Florida Construction Career Days event, hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation, gathered department officials and students from several Central Florida schools at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand last week.
“It was a very successful day,” said Carlos Dawson, FDOT’s district maintenance engineer, in an interview. “We had just shy of 50 buses.”
Students participated in hands-on learning experiences through the event’s “learning labs.” These consist of various facets of construction and engineering, from electrical and rebar techniques to cutting-edge drone surveying, immersive VR technology and more.
“We had 35 learning labs,” Dawson said. “It was a really good opportunity for juniors and seniors from all across Central Florida to interact with professionals from the construction industry and really get a good understanding of what it takes to potentially take part in the field.”
Students test drove and operated a diverse array of heavy equipment whilst engaging with industry engineers, inspectors and field staff, according to the department.
Some of the hands-on labs involved creating asphalt, piping systems and more. Students also participated in the equipment learning lab, with 15 different types of construction equipment, including learning how to operate mini excavators.
The potential ‘rewarding’ experience of a career in construction
Dawson argued that exposing high school students to the possibilities within the construction industry job comes at an opportune time as the state is putting “a heavy emphasis on transportation.”
The “Moving Florida Forward Initiative,” proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, will dedicate $4 billion in state funds toward improving transportation infrastructure in the state.
For example, $340 million of the funding will go to a new Interstate 95/U.S. 1 interchange project in Ormond Beach.
“So there is a lot of opportunity in this field to really learn about what it takes and provide different career paths where (students) could go straight from school,” Dawson said.
He said that contributing to the improvement of the local infrastructure and the benefit of so many can be a “rewarding” experience.
“When you use these facilities — Interstate 4, Interstate 95, Interstate 75 — it gives you a sense of pride to know that you had a part in building that facility,” Dawson said.