Cassidy Camp may only be 18, but for the last two years she’s been busy planning her future.

Inspired by her dad, who is a contractor, Camp hopes to own a general construction business someday.

The Tanque Verde High School senior has been involved in precision manufacturing — welding and metal work — and construction technology classes since her sophomore year of high school.

On Friday, Camp joined students from 10 high schools across Southern Arizona in the SkillsUSA regional competition to showcase their skills in a variety of construction trades.

Despite the 132 teens competing, there is a shortage of young people taking an interest and developing skills in these professions, said Chuck Gallagher, the SkillsUSA competition organizer for Southern Arizona Region 6.

The competition put students’ skills to the test in categories including solo carpentry, electrical, masonry, plumbing, construction tech duo-teams, and a team build that includes participants from all crafts.

“Girls have a tendency to win, and there are not many of them,” Gallagher said, adding that girls often exhibit more attention to detail and are more willing to ask for help.

According to the United States Department of Labor, as of 2010, women make up only about 9 percent of construction workers.

There is a general need for people to go into these jobs, but specifically there is a need for girls.

Camp worked in a two-person team to build a two-seat bench, divided in the middle by a small coffee table. She worked fiercely and calmly as she measured and cut lumber for her project.

“The guys try to intimidate me, but I just push them away,” Camp said.

Camp said she enjoys the hands-on nature of construction, but her favorite part is seeing a customer’s face when a project is completed.

LABOR SHORTAGE

The average age of construction workers today ranges from 52 to 57, largely due to the lack of young people pursuing careers in these trades, Gallagher said.

High school counselors tend to encourage students to go to college and dissuade them from pursuing careers in construction, he said. There is a misconception that these trades are not real careers, which leaves many job openings unfilled.

“Being a plumber is a great career. It’s not a job, it’s a career,” Gallagher said.

The lack of prospective employees is hurting the construction industry.

Local economies are affected because of construction companies’ inability to take on new projects and clients. These issues cause a domino affect, Gallagher said.

“The construction trade really guides the economy,” he said.

“The population is growing and you need buildings to house people,” added Mark Flynn of Flynn Electric, which sponsored the electrical category of the competition.

Flynn said he has turned down projects because he did not have the staff to complete them.

Having construction programs in schools is important because they give kids the opportunity to learn the basics and make mistakes in an environment where they can get help, Flynn said.

Pima County’s Joint Technical Education District has been working to provide that experience to students after many construction technology programs have been eliminated at high schools throughout Southern Arizona.

MOVING FORWARD

By the end of the weekend, about 30 students will move on to the state competition in April and only a couple will continue on to nationals.

Past competitors of the construction programs returned to the event Friday to judge contests in which they once participated.

Adrian Flores, a Santa Rita High School alum, attended the event as a judge.

“If I had never learned electrical, I would’ve never been able to maintain my own home,” Flores said.

While in high school, Flores learned electrical wiring from Gallagher, his teacher at Santa Rita at the time. 

Roman Yates, 16, competed in the plumbing category, installing pipes — a skill he said he barely learned the day before at school.

The Sahuarita High School sophomore became interested in construction after helping his dad build things such as a porch. He said he enjoys construction because he gets to build and take things apart.

“I could see myself going into a career because I found a passion,” Yates said.

Elena Gonzalez is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com.