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FORGE Career Expo Encourages Younger Generation to Consider Skilled Trades

FORGE Career Expo Encourages Younger Generation to Consider Skilled Trades

In October 2022, The FORGE Foundation began a three day, in-person skilled trades career expo. The event, co-hosted by the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF) and East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), aimed to expose
and connect students with the necessary information and tools to explore a career in a skilled trade. Over three days, approximately 2,000 area students from 18 different schools had the opportunity to learn about careers in skilled trades from more than 35 local employers, including Columbus, Mississippi, based CSDA member, McCrary Construction Services.

Founded in 2018, FORGE is comprised of a group of locally owned small businesses, most of which are in their second or third generation of owners. Before founding FORGE, these individual companies were competing for labor with each other, impeding the goal of strengthening their respective companies and the surrounding community. They began to work together to determine a more long-term solution, and thus inspired FORGE. Formed with the vision of strengthening the budding partnerships with local schools, and the ability to assist students in preparing for the workforce, FORGE allows these companies to work as a team to build the workforce of tomorrow.

According to ManpowerGroup, a leading global workforce solutions company, global talent shortages have reached a 16-year high. As of 2022, three in four employers have reported difficulty finding the talent they need. From IT and data, to manufacturing and trade, employers cannot find the people they need to fill positions with the right combination of technical skills and human strengths. As the market strives to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic, a talent shortage of historical scale has catalyzed. The trades are one of the highest affected, marked by a 72% shortage rate in the industry.

According to ManpowerGroup, “From 2015-2024, there will be 1,921,200 people entering the labor market with a bachelor’s degree each year, yet seven out of ten jobs require less than a four-year degree. One requires a master’s degree or more, two need a bachelor’s degree or more, and seven require an associate degree, credential or certification.” For more than seven years in a row, construction skilled trades are the hardest roles to fill. In addition, 54% of construction firms are finding it difficult to fill both salaried and hourly craft positions, according to a survey released by The Associated General Contractors of America.

This career fair was not only an opportunity for students to meet experts in various industries, but an opportunity for students to learn how their interests can integrate into the skilled trades of the future. The construction industry is now utilizing drone pilots, GPS plotting software, robots and various other forms of technology that students might not know exist in skilled trades. The trades industry is using these new tools to pique interest in these fields and accelerate the region’s economic growth along the way, showing that the local workforce is talented, skilled and ready to work.

The FORGE Career Expo kicked off at the EMCC Communiversity with 8th graders as the majority demographic. This specific age group of students were chosen because they are traditionally making the decision to enter career technical programs or not as they begin high school. Students had the opportunity to provide their contact information to industries at the trades expo and EMCC staff was on hand to help students explore a post-secondary plan.

Adults also had the opportunity to see the Career Expo firsthand. They enjoyed operating equipment, laying bricks, finishing concrete and sitting in bulldozers just like the kids. FORGE hosted entertainment from one of their own members, musician Goodloe Chilcutt, with New Home Building Stores.

While students and adults were touring and experiencing the expo on Wednesday, FORGE and MCEF hosted a counselor’s workshop. The leaders at FORGE believe educating the decision-makers that enroll and influence students into joining skilled trades courses in their schools is crucial. Over 30 area high school and middle school counselors enjoyed a discussion with a panel that explained the benefits of joining trades, along with a guided tour of the expo.

“This expo was a great opportunity for students to learn how to link their current educational outlook to a skilled trade. We wanted students to learn not only how they can enter these fields but thrive and advance as experts and leaders in these industries. We wanted to showcase our community as pioneers in developing a workforce pipeline beginning in K-12 and continuing through to trade school, community college or 4-year programs,” said Katie McCrary, a FORGE founding board member from McCrary Construction Services.

A significant emphasis of this program is that construction is shifting—this is not just your grandfather’s career anymore. Despite women currently only making up about 11% of the construction industry, it is one of the first industries closing the gap on equal pay. In fact, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 99.1% of what men make in construction – significantly higher than the U.S. average of 81.1%. As of 2022, about 13% of construction firms are now owned by women, a 94% growth since 2007. Additionally, 44 of the top 100 construction companies have women executives. Given this information, it is evident that women in this industry are going to continue to become more prevalent.

The leaders at FORGE have dedicated their time to help the next generation of tradesmen build their skillset for the future of the workforce in the surrounding communities. Events like the FORGE Career Expo show that the Golden Triangle community is rallying around a collective cause.

With 53% of seasoned workers retiring in the next 15 years, the industry is facing a critical skills gap. New entrants to the field can quickly grow their careers, especially if they take initiative to learn the skills and knowledge from those retiring. Today’s tradespeople are innovators, entrepreneurs, creators, and dreamers. The trades are foundational to our economic prosperity and everyday lives. For a complete list of FORGE members, and to learn more about their foundation, please visit

McCrary-West Construction has been a reliable North Mississippi Construction Company since 1964. McCrary-West excels in the areas of industrial maintenance and commercial concrete work. Being a great service provider means having complete and total confidence in the people providing those services, and they’re proud to have the best in the business working with them.
In 2002, McCrary-West opened a sister company to accommodate daily work. McCrary Construction Services was born. In the beginning, MCS functioned as a concrete pumping company and ran a fleet of pumps. Fast forward to today and MCS has transitioned from concrete pumping to primarily concrete sawing, drilling, and demo services. Combined both companies currently employ 35 employees. They have been a CSDA member since 2014.
McCrary-West Construction
Contact for Story: Katie McCrary
Tel: 662-327-1964

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