Sixteen-year-old Rashard Vance may never hit the hardwood at the Milwaukee Bucks' new $25-million-plus training facility. But he has left his mark on it, nonetheless.
During a tour this week, the Bradley Tech High School sophomore and more than a dozen classmates signed their autographs onto the backs of smooth, maple planks and hammered them into place on the team's massive new practice floor.
The tour was among the highlights of a daylong event aimed at interesting Bradley Tech students in careers in the skilled trades, and recruiting the next cohort of the Bradley Tech "Tech Terns," who will spend the next school year getting hands-on experience on the Bucks' new arena.
"This is amazing — really, really amazing," said a wide-eyed Vance surveying the cavernous practice court amid the din of pneumatic nail guns.
That was the reaction Alicia Dupies was hoping for, as a former construction executive turned Bucks' vice president of social responsibility. She helped launch the Tech Terns when she worked for Mortenson Construction — now the lead contractor on the $524 million arena project. And she's continuing the work in her new post with the Bucks.
"They would come about every six weeks and spend an entire day at the arena site," Dupies said. "This lets them go through a mock day of what it would be like ... so they can evaluate whether that's something they'd want to invest in," she said.
The idea is to help students see how their Bradley Tech courses, in such subjects as welding and carpentry, translate into real jobs in the workplace. As part of the program, students get one-on-one time with mentors in the various trades and regularly visit the construction site where they'll apply what they learn in the classroom in a real-world setting. Tuesday's tour gave them a crash course in what that might look like.
In addition to a brief primer on the ergonomics behind the construction of the basketball court's flooring, they tried their hands at installing electrical outlet boxes and donned virtual reality goggles to see how architectural designers use video game technology to illustrate and rearrange rooms in 3-D.
"This is cool," said sophomore Rayshawn Simpson, his curiosity piqued by the 3-D imaging. "I like the designing. I didn't know they used this kind of technology," he said. "It makes it really interesting."
Tech Terns was the brainchild of John Balzer, vice president of facility planning and development for Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, who could see the difficulties contractors were having finding skilled trades workers.
He's also the point person for making sure Froedtert hits its targets for minority employment on its development projects. So it made sense to work with Bradley Tech, both for its focus on the trades and its racial makeup, which is 95% students of color.
Balzer reached out to some of Froedtert's contractors, including Mortenson and CannonDesign. Bradley Tech and the nonprofit Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/Big Step signed on, and the program was a go.
The first two Tech Tern cohorts worked on two major projects at Froedtert: the $140 million Center for Advanced Care, which opened in 2015; then the $100 Integrated Procedural Platform — think high-tech imaging and operating suites — which is still under construction.
A big part of the mission is helping students see their own potential, helping them see themselves in the workplace. They're told again and again to look for things that spark their interest and be open to new experiences that might open doors on an unexpected path.
The would-be Tech Terns heard that clearly on Tuesday from Bucks Vice President Craig Robinson, who parlayed his love for basketball into the executive suite; and Balzer, a former teacher whose first job at Froedtert was as a second-shift maintenance man.
"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I hadn't been exposed to something different," Balzer told the Bradley Tech students in kicking off the tour.
"Pick something you will enjoy, something you can be passionate about, something that will get you up in the morning," he said. "Because life is too short to do something you don't like."
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