A key challenge facing construction today is letting young people know that it's a viable career choice for tomorrow. Industry-wide, many groups are working to get young people excited about construction and to let them know about the excitement and opportunities that the field has to offer.
Different initiatives target young people at different ages, but when it comes to pure fun and excitement, one of the most energetic programs has got to be the National Association of Women in Construction's annual Block Kids program.
The Block Kids building program is a national building competition that introduces children to the construction industry in an effort to create an awareness of and to promote an interest in future careers in one of the many faces of the industry. Participants are given a specific selection of building materials, including a number of plastic building blocks (thus the name), and challenged to use the materials to construct some sort of project. Judges evaluate the process, and winners are named at the end of the day.
Block Kids competitions are held across the country, with local winners going on to compete regionally and then nationally. What follows is a look at two recent Block Kids competitions and at some of the work that two southeastern NAWIC chapters are doing to spread the word on construction.
NAWIC's Greater Birmingham Chapter recently held its annual Block Kids Building Program at Valley Elementary School in Pelham, AL. Approximately 30 second-grade students participated in this year's event.
Each participant was provided with 101 Lego blocks, one rock, one piece of foil, and a length of string. Each child was permitted to build the project of his or her choice, but all projects had to be construction related. The children were given a time limit within which to complete their projects; once the projects were completed, volunteer judges evaluated the finished projects and named the winners.
Alex Goatley was this year's Greater Birmingham chapter winner and received a check for $75. His project will also go on to compete regionally.
Can you say "Going Green?" In the past few years, green building, going green, sustainability, LEED, and many other related terms have been buzz words in the construction and design industries. This year, approximately 35 Atlanta-area elementary-age students went green thanks to the NAWIC Atlanta Block Kids Building Competition, chaired by Stacey Chapman of Heery International and Valencia McDaniel of IBG Building Group.
The Atlanta event was held at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The theme was "Building a Greener Tomorrow, One Block at a Time." Participants included girls from Girl Scout and Brownie troops in and around Northwest Georgia.
The "green" theme of the event spotlighted not only sustainability in the construction and design industry but also the significance of using recyclable materials throughout the day.
Erica Guevara of Heery International started the day off with a presentation on just what the terms "green building" and "sustainable design" mean. Noting how cartoon characters have light bulbs appear over their heads when they come up with a great idea, Guevara told the students that they all had their own light bulbs and that the more "green" ideas they thought about, the greener their light bulbs would become.
Thus armed with their "green light bulbs," the participants proceeded to build their projects. The girls created energy plants, recycling centers, solar-powered hospitals, buildings with rainwater receptacles, and more. During the course of their building, the participants were interviewed by industry judges and asked to explain what they had built and who would benefit from its use.
While the judges deliberated to select the winners, the children were able to enjoy a number of hands-on construction-related educational opportunities — all tying back to the idea of sustainability. For example, Erica Guevara and Frances Hamilton of Heery International presented a demonstration on recycling and on what happens to various items after they have been recycled, focusing specifically on the food plates, cups and other items that were used the day of the event. At another station, Katie Blankenstein of jB+a presented a landscape demonstration spotlighting stormwater filtration and even let the kids prepare their own personal water-filtration systems utilizing natural resources such as soil, sand and stone.
This year's event also included a photo-taking station complete with a life-size rendition of the Block Kids logo with a cutout for participants to stick their head through.
At the end of the event each Brownie and Girl Scout received either a Building Art Try It or Architecture Badge. The children also received reusable organic tote bags and organic T-shirts, donated by SilvAD Promotions, plus journals made of recycled paper and other goodies.
RaiNell Bentley was this year's local winner and will advance to the regional competition. Bentley designed and constructed a House of Energy for the city. The facility would capture energy from the sun through the use of the solar roofing, then distribute the energy wirelessly throughout the city.