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Pine River-Backus: Building trades event inspires students

Austin Simon, right, learns about working with electricity during the building trades seminar at Pine River-Backus School Dec. 7. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal 1 / 2
Travis Kelly, territory manager for Marvin Windows and Doors, talks about his journey from Pine River-Backus High School to a valuable career in sales. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal 2 / 2

Representatives from area building trades businesses offered their expertise to Pine River-Backus students Thursday, Dec. 7, sharing the perks of their jobs and guidance on how students could find careers with or without a higher education degree.

A committee of members from the Mid-Minnesota Builders Association visited PR-B School. Among those present were representatives from Simonson Lumber, Marvin Windows and Doors, SCR Northern and several other businesses.

"The objective of this is just to give them an option," said Colleen Faacks, Mid-Minnesota Builders Association executive officer. "Not every single graduate from high school needs to go to a four-year school. Some are confused and not sure what they want to do. The purpose of this is just giving them an option."

Travis Kelley, a Marvin Windows and Doors territory manager and 2004 graduate from Pine River-Backus, shared his experiences, which included a brief period in college, but no degree. He used his past five years with Marvin as an example of what any PR-B student can look forward to with or without a college degree.

"It's fun," Kelley said. "I probably went down a path that wasn't the preference for guidance counselors, and I still feel like it worked out very well for myself. It's neat to try to show them that there are so many jobs that you never think about. At Marvin alone we have 5,500 employees."

Kelley said there are positions in photography, research and development, sales and service, as well as for attorneys and virtually any other specialty at Marvin Windows.

"I live where I grew up," Kelley said. "I am my own boss and I work for people I love. I'm a windows sales rep and that doesn't sound that great, but I love my life. Just because you don't go to four years of school does not mean you won't be successful."

Even for students who have plans after graduation, the event opened up other possibilities. Senior Austin Simon is motivated to become a diesel mechanic.

"I wanted to be a truck driver, but my stepdad said I'd probably make more being a mechanic, so I decided to be a diesel mechanic," Simon said. "In 10th grade I got into liking it. This year I did small engines with Jason (Trout's class) and I liked that, so it pushed me more into wanting to be a mechanic."

Representatives from SCR Northern, which deals with heating and cooling equipment, told Simon his experience working with diesel could prepare him for working with propane.

"It feels really good. I wasn't expecting to learn as much as I have so far," Simon said.

Simon isn't the only student to learn of new possibilities through school cooperation with the Mid-Minnesota Builders Association. This is the third school visit the group has made since the first event in Pequot Lakes last January. In that time, Faacks said many students have expressed interest in careers they didn't even know existed, an experience shared by many of the professionals in the room.

"If you would have asked me when I was their age if I would be a lumber or window sales rep, no way," Kelley said. "That would not be possible. I wasn't interested in it. It didn't sound fun or glamorous."

In addition to introducing students to new careers, the Mid-Minnesota Builders Association also purchased new equipment for the school's shop classrooms, including hose reels, clamps, conduit benders, tool blades and other items.

The Mid-Minnesota Builders Association has set a goal of presenting this session to five schools a year in Crow Wing County and the lower parts of Cass and Wadena counties. The next scheduled sessions are in Brainerd in January, Sebeka in February and Staples in the near future.

After all of the target schools are done, the Mid-Minnesota Builders Association intends to return to schools it previously visited in approximately two years.