Build University Connects Students with Industry Professionals


High schools have been operating in fits and starts since the beginning of the pandemic. Home building industry leaders in Iowa, undeterred by the uncertainty, created the Build University Series, free online sessions developed to educate students about careers in construction.

The series was developed through the collaborative efforts of Iowa Skilled Trades, the Iowa Intermediary Network, the Iowa Department of Education and several industry partners. As soon as local schools began to close in April, the HBA of Greater Des Moines (DSMHBA) was involved in discussions with HBAs and educational leaders in Iowa to re-imagine skilled trades programming for a virtual audience, said Brandon Patterson, who leads workforce development efforts at the HBA.

The goal was to inform students about the benefits of working in the industry, provide specific steps on where to start and offer insights into the various career paths available. Before planning the series content, Build University partners assembled a focus group of students to determine their interests and what information would benefit them, said Melisa Cox, partnership and publications lead at DSMHBA.

The sessions were designed to meet the statewide Career and Technical Education (CTE) standards. The Iowa Intermediary Network Coordinators provided the technology platform to host the sessions, managed registration and shared information about Build University with schools.

Build University held its first online class this month. Over 1,000 students from more than 60 school districts in Iowa participated in the first session, "Intro to Trades." The session featured men and women in the industry sharing their personal stories that led them to a career in the trades.

Future sessions will include a mix of panel discussions and job site tours spotlighting carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other skilled professionals. HBA members have volunteered as speakers and some members have recruited their apprentices to address the students. Patterson credits the collaboration of the state and local HBAs in Iowa and longstanding relationships with educational leaders for the successful launch of Build University.

For HBAs and members who are interested in creating an online program or virtual event for students, Patterson recommends connecting with others who are interested in workforce development. "Find a team of people who are super engaged and are willing to be held accountable." To view the upcoming Build University sessions, visit the Iowa Intermediary Network.

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