He's still a high school sophomore, but Noah House got a taste of what it would be like to be an aerial lift operator on Wednesday. He stepped into the cage-like machine and put on a headset, allowing him to see a virtual workspace. And then, as he manipulated the controls, he could feel the lift respond to his commands.

That was just one of many options students could experience Wednesday at Construct Tomorrow, an event meant to expose students to careers in the trades. Held at the Mayo Civic Center, it was expected to draw about 600 students from 20 area high schools.

Careers in trades jobs -- plumbers, electricians, mechanics, technicians and so on -- not only pay well, but are also in high demand. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, there are at least 30 million jobs in the U.S. that pay more than $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Gary Larsen, apprentice coordinator with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, was talking to a small crowd of students about all the different jobs trades workers do.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School juniors Tanner Finstuen, left, and Nick Gerken, race each other to drill a screw into drywall during Construct Tomorrow, a career fair focused on union registered building and construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School juniors Tanner Finstuen, left, and Nick Gerken, race each other to drill a screw into drywall during Construct Tomorrow, a career fair focused on union registered building and construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

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"At one point, they were just like you and had no idea what the they were doing," Larsen said of today's workers. "Now they're building buildings, hospitals, schools. They built this," he said, referring to the Civic Center.

Although students couldn't actually try the various careers for real, they could get pretty close. In addition to the aerial lift simulator, they could try their hand at trades.

In one corner of the room, students were learning about brick laying. Other students grabbed trowels and practiced smoothing out wet cement.

At another station, they wiring a building for electricity.

At yet another, they could learn about roofing ... or plumbing .... or welding.

Siblings Bree and Jack Volker from Chatfield were among the students. A fan of design, Bree has been taking an engineering class as an elective where she's been learning about computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing.

She said the career fair was a good way to become aware of other options.

"I don't think a lot of people get to see this kind of stuff in their schools so it gives them more ideas of what they may want to go into," Volker said.

Kingsland High School sophomore Noah Mundfrom uses a paint simulator to paint a shelf during Construct Tomorrow, a career fair focused on union registered building and construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Kingsland High School sophomore Noah Mundfrom uses a paint simulator to paint a shelf during Construct Tomorrow, a career fair focused on union registered building and construction apprenticeship programs in Minnesota Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, at in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Some students, though, are getting a jump-start on things rather than exploring all the options.

Kate DesChamps, with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, said the union has started a high school pathway program, which is now in its second year. The program allows students to lay some of the training groundwork while getting high school credit.

"They're going to learn all about the different types of equipment. They're going to learn safety protocols. All of these things make it so that kids -- when they get done -- they're ready," she said. "They can go right to our training facility and be like 'here I am.'"