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Students visit Gwinnett for construction expo

LAWRENCEVILLE - For many high school students, working with their hands to install wiring, plumbing or construct buildings is far preferable to working 9 to 5 in a cubicle or office.

This week, more than 1,500 of those students had the chance to learn more about careers in construction at the Georgia Construction CareerExpo 2006, held at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. They were greeted by representatives from 200 companies looking to recruit and educate students.

"People think of construction as just something you do until you get a job, but these are people who are professional construction workers letting students know they can excel in construction and make it their career," said John Beavin, educational improvement coordinator for the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia.

The expo kicked off Thursday at 8:30 a.m., and will go until 1 p.m. today. School buses drove in from as far as Augusta and Valdosta, bringing technical students from 73 different schools across the state.

All of the students were presented with white hard hats and safety goggles before they walked around exploring the different stations. They watched demonstrations and worked first-hand on carpentry, brick masonry, plumbing, painting and mechanical and electrical installation.

It was a great opportunity for them to meet with industry professionals to discuss their possible careers, said Roy Rucks, the long-time former principal of Maxwell High School of Technology. He continues to promote technical education at the Georgia Department of Education.

"It's a great event for them to learn about working in all the different fields," Rucks said. "The students are enjoying it, asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of things hands-on."

As a former Gwinnett County school administrator, Rucks observed that though there's a focus on preparing students for college, they also have access to good technical education programs.

Raquel Ramirez, 17, came to the expo with her classmates at Forest Park High School in Clayton County. She said she was having fun, even if she didn't think she would go into one of the careers.

"My teacher brought all the people who wanted to be in construction or had an 'A' in the class. And I had an 'A,'" Ramirez joked.

Though students had the opportunity to paint, weld and practice building, the favorite station was one in which they could hang by a harness as they were pulled up five feet. Students lined up to have their turn at the station.

"It gives them a feeling of what it would feel like in a real harness with their feet off the ground. They have to get used to that feeling," said Ron Williams, a construction teacher at Adairsville High School in Bartow County.

The students also competed against each other to showcase their construction abilities. The annual state SkillsUSA construction contest was part of the event, which tests teams on their brick masonry, carpentry, industrial motor control, sheet metal, plumbing and other skills. This year, Maxwell High School of Technology sent 10 students to the state competition, the most in its history. The winner from this week's events will go to nationals.

Jonathan Varner, 16, came from Johnson High School in Gainesville to compete in the SkillsUSA contest and attend the expo.

"It's pretty fun. I like how everything is hands-on here," Varner said.

This morning, there will be several prominent guests at the event, including Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, State School Superintendent Kathy Cox and Michael Thurmond, Georgia's commissioner of labor.

For more information on the Construction CareerExpo 2006, visit http://www.cefga.org/career_expo.html