The SKILLED® shadowing program gave me a great foundational understanding of my future career. Although the program is only a few weeks long, it contains various lessons and activities built around different aspects of a construction company.” — Mary Niu, student, Francis Howell North High School

(photo of Mary Niu, left, a 2023 SKILLED Shadow program participant – photo courtesy of S. M. Wilson)

By JENNIFER K. HASAMEAR

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – When Mary Niu was chosen to be a part of S. M. Wilson’s SKILLED® high school shadowing program the summer before her senior year at Francis Howell North High School, she hoped to develop her knowledge of civil engineering further and explore the possible job opportunities before heading to college in the following fall.

“During the program, every S. M. Wilson team member provided a friendly learning and working environment for the other students and I,” Niu said. “We were encouraged to ask questions, and every question was answered thoroughly. Everyone was very patient with teaching us about using different technologies and programs,” she added, as one who learned about the shadow program during a tour of the new Francis Howell North High School where S. M. Wilson serves as construction manager.

Niu is one of the thousands of students impacted by S. M. Wilson’s SKILLED Construction Career Education program since its inception in 2019. This program was created to spark an interest in the construction industry at a young age and continue fostering that interest throughout high school and college. SKILLED has reached more than 13,000 students involved in 70 unique STEAM events with 50+ Wilson team members serving as mentors.

Birth of SKILLED®

One morning in 2019, Chief Marketing Officer Amanda Bohnert was walking her pre-school-aged son to class in the local high school, which was under construction, when her son stopped and looked with wonder at the workers creating the new learning environment. Looking at it through her child’s eyes, Amanda helped her son’s teacher theme the classroom with a construction outlook to inspire the kids to be curious about the construction crews working outside their window on a new building addition. Amanda then volunteered to come to the classroom to teach the students about the different careers and equipment used in construction.

This event formed the brilliant idea of creating an educational program involving the students in the districts where S. M. Wilson is working. SKILLED programs help students understand what is happening during the construction, what crews are doing and why things are on a site. The mission of SKILLED is to “inspire the future of construction.” SKILLED events have also included the signing of the last steel beam to be placed on the building, where district officials are asked to sign their names and students place their handprints on the bar to be forever imprinted there for history.

Since the program’s inception, SKILLED has welcomed six high school shadow graduates including Mary Niu, provided 20 academic stipends and hosted 21 college interns.

“SKILLED came from an idea of how we could include the students who are watching the construction happen all around them at their schools and bring them into our world to teach them more about construction,” said Bohnert.

“The other aspects of SKILLED came together naturally because we wanted the program to extend from pre-kindergarten to college,” she added. “This program provides the potential to begin instilling construction career education early into a child’s life while continuing to offer opportunities as a student grows and finds his or her path.”

Through a three-pronged program – Discover, Develop and Elevate – learners are supported at all experience levels, from Pre-K students to workforce professionals in the construction industry.

S. M. Wilson provides the educational framework to teach, mentor and inspire in three ways:

  • Discover – Introduce opportunities for PreK-12th grade students, including construction career paths, hands-on STEAM activities and construction site field trips
  • Develop – Offer career-ready internships, career fairs, career training and mentorship
  • Elevate – Support the internal professional growth of employees through continued job training, team building, development programs and advancement opportunities

For Niu, the high school shadowing program offered invaluable lessons that helped her look toward studying something different than she initially anticipated. She plans to major in Construction Engineering and Management at Purdue University where she was recently accepted.

“During my experience, I was introduced not only to the engineers and the construction team on site but also to the management departments and even other interns currently in college,” Niu said. “From working with drones and 360 cameras to seeing how the team members use different software to manage the project, I gained a holistic understanding of the construction industry.”

Another school district where SKILLED was incorporated while construction was happening concurrently was Granite City C.U.S.D. #9. While a new high school competition turf softball/baseball field was under construction, high school students also participated in a SKILLED hands-on program, Follow The Build.

“We have been fortunate to have S. M. Wilson as a part of our sports complex growth in GCSD9,” said Supt. Stephanie Cann. “Their approach to a project goes past the physical construction but also includes celebrating the completion of a project with us.”

“Their SKILLED and Follow the Build programs bring student engagement into the educational forefront through specific classroom presentations by field experts and on-site field trips to our own active project sites,” she added. “This reinforces the ownership component for our students, allowing them to understand what work goes into building a new facility.GCSD9 appreciates S. M. Wilson’s commitment to our projects and our students.”

SKILLED Continues To Grow

In addition to the multiple education programs offered through SKILLED, team members have logged 1,800+ hours of training, leadership development and coaching. There has also been an investment of $93,000 in tuition reimbursement, 529 Savings programs and student loans. Annually, students in both Illinois and Missouri are also given the opportunity to win a $1,000 SKILLED award to complete a STEAM idea benefitting their school and/or community. Video submissions are sent in from the students in the fall and awards are presented in late winter.

SKILLED is also active with multiple organizations, working actively to help high school students understand the many opportunities in the trades industry.

“S. M. Wilson team members have spent countless hours at events such as Yeah, I Built That and Build My Future to share information about construction careers and opportunities in the industry,” said Maggie Farrell, S. M. Wilson’s diversity and human resources manager. “SKILLED is this truly unique program that allows our company to help inspire future  generations in the communities we are building.”

For more information about SKILLED, contact Farrell at maggie.farrell@smwilson.com. To learn more about SKILLED, go to https://www.smwilson.com/skilled/.