WASHINGTON — On October 14th, 2017, more than 3,300 visitors — many of them children between the ages of six and 12 — were able to participate in a hands-on learning experience geared towards the building trades.
The Big Build is an annual community day held each fall and produced by the education department at the National Building Museum in Washington. The museum’s mission is “to inspire curiosity about the world we design and build.”
Events are held in the museum’s Great Hall. Activities are offered that can give young people an introduction to elements of such diverse disciplines as architecture, design, home renovation, eco design, civil engineering, construction and more.
Some of the activities stations created by the over 20 exhibitors at the 2017 Big Build included: Cast a Concrete Candle Holder; Forging Hot Steel; Joint Compound Application; The Truck Petting Zoo; Birdhouse Roofing; Technology in Construction; Wire a Light, Bend a Pipe; Woodworking with Hand Tools; Open Source Construction; Nail Driving; and Pipe Tree and Piggy Banks.
Shapiro & Duncan is a D.C.-based mechanical contracting firm that has been serving the area since 1976, and participating in the Big Build for more than 15 years.
“Our original owner, Dave Shapiro, first learned of it 15 or 20 years ago and wanted to get involved,” said Stacey Holsinger, Marketing Manager for Shapiro & Duncan. “In 1993 Dave Shapiro turned ownership of the company over to his sons Jerry and Sheldon, and they loved the tradition and continued carrying it out through the years.”
Over the years the company has upgraded the activities it offers, but each year they make sure to bring the pipe tree, which has become a Big Build favorite. “The kids get to work with a wrench and different sizes of steel pipe,” Holsinger said, “and it just continues to grow throughout the whole event. Even the parents get involved. It was one of the first ideas we came up with that people look forward to.”
Shapiro & Duncan also partnered with two of their vendors. With Cathell Associates they created a plumbing puzzle that gives youngsters a taste of behind-the-wall pipe installation. With Miller Welds they gave kids the chance to operate a virtual welding machine.
Along with materials Shapiro & Duncan provided eight volunteers to donate their time, several of them licensed pipefitters and welders. The company wanted people who really know their jobs and are comfortable talking about them. The hope is to show both the children and their parents that the trades can provide an exciting, rewarding profession.
“A lot of the school systems -- middle schools, elementary, high schools – push college and forget about the trades as a viable career opportunity,” Holsinger said. Shapiro & Duncan, like almost every mechanical contractor in the country, is facing a huge skilled labor deficit that makes it difficult to hire for certain positions.
“We work heavily with the school systems by participating in their career days. We are also spend our time volunteering in our local community through programs such as ACE Mentoring of Washington, Junior Achievement, and this spring, She Builds, Rebuilding Together Montgomery County. Participating in local career fairs is not enough, we want to make a difference and really connect with today’s youth on a more personal level. The Big Build allows us to do this,” Holsinger said.
The main advantage of the Big Build, as Holsinger see it, is that the events are hands-on, interactive, and reaching out to kids at a very young age. “We want to really reach the kids that are younger and get them interested so they don’t forget about us when they’re in school.”
2018 will see the Building Museum host the 25th Big Build, and organizers are gearing up to make it something special.