HARRISONBURG — As children rode carnival rides and adults munched down food at the Rockingham County Fair on Wednesday, Steven Brooks cut up boards with a circular saw.
The 17-year-old junior at Broadway High School and Massanutten Technical Center built a bench as potential employers watched nearby.
“My gut is tight. … I’m nervous,” said Brooks, who added he’s looking forward to a carpentry career when he graduates. “Carpentry isn’t the same thing every day. It’s always different.”
Brooks was among seven students to participate in the Construction Trade Skills Competition at the fairgrounds’ Associated General Contractors of Virginia and Massanutten Technical Center pavilion.
Massanutten Technical Center, Valley Technical and Career Center in Augusta County and Triplett Business and Tech School in Shenandoah County participated in Wednesday’s competition, which focused on carpentry.
Tuesday’s competition, the first of the week, focused on electrical work. Contests will continue today, focusing on HVAC, and Friday, with a masonry competition.
Neil Tucker, a carpentry teacher at MTC, said his two students in the competition are entering their second year at the school.
He said the students spent the last year honing their skills. While they have built benches before, they likely haven’t done so with a large audience.
“It shows character,” Tucker said.
Kirk Adams, vice chairman for Associated General Contractors of Virginia and director of preconstruction and business development at Riddleberger Brothers, said AGC and MTC created the competition about a decade ago.
Founded in 1924, the AGC is the oldest and largest commercial construction trade association in the state.
He said the contest is a way for students to showcase their work to employers searching for potential new hires.
“The construction industry really has a shortage of workers,” said Adams, adding that the workforce has suffered since the recession more than a decade ago. “We had quite a few folks leave or retire during that time period, and now, we’re not seeing the young guys joining the profession.”
The annual contest is also a chance for the students to build relationships with local construction companies.
“All of the employers are a resource for them in the future,” said Adams, adding that students can contact them in the future with questions or help. “Everybody is here for them.”