By Madison Tiller

Fighting the knowledge gap to increase young people’s awareness of the diversity in the construction industry

What jobs do you think of when you hear the term “construction?”

Words like “carpenter,” “plumber,” or “electrician” may come to mind. And for many high school students, this is where their knowledge of the construction industry ends.

While electrical, carpentry and plumbing are great choices, they are far from the only options that exist in the industry. Occupations such as ironworker, boilermaker or crane operator are not usually on youths’ radar when it comes to potential careers. Many students, parents and educators are unaware that there are over 100 different jobs to explore in the construction sector.

Why is there this lack of awareness?

“While it is hard to know for sure, it can be partially attributed to the stigma that surrounds the construction industry,” explains Trent Soholt, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council (NSCSC), a non-profit organization that supports Nova Scotia’s Industrial-Commercial-Institutional (ICI) construction sector. “The industry battles a reputation of being ‘second tier’ in comparison to other sectors, often those that require a university education. Parents may feel familiar with “construction” through watching popular renovation shows, but these shows are not a true representation of the industry. This combination of factors contributes to the lack of discussion around jobs in the construction industry when it’s time for young people to begin thinking about careers.”

The NSCSC recognized this knowledge gap while travelling to career fairs across the province. “When students would come to our booth, they were surprised at how many opportunities there were in our sector,” says Soholt. NSCSC staff also recognized how difficult it is to engage students with only information-dense brochures and handouts. These events, along with the organization acquiring a large empty warehouse, led to the creation of the Trades Exhibition Hall – a one-of-a-kind career awareness facility located in Halifax.

The NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall offers high school and junior high students, teachers, career counsellors and jobseekers the unique opportunity to explore careers in ICI construction via hands-on, interactive learning. During half or full-day sessions, visitors try their hand at various skilled trades and management occupations by taking part in activities guided by experienced industry professionals.

The Sector Council, with support from industry and government, has transformed its empty warehouse into a simulated construction site containing 14 interactive booths, each representing ICI trades and occupations. Booths include: boilermaker, bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, elevator constructor, finishing trades, insulator, ironworker, non-destructive tester, operating engineer, pipe trades, sheet metal worker and various management occupations represented in the “management trailer.” Each booth is operated by an industry professional who provides information about their occupation and walk visitors through hands-on demonstrations and activities. Instead of just reading a brochure or hearing a presentation about becoming a bricklayer, participants can speak-one-on-one with an apprentice, journeyperson or manager about what they do and even lay a brick or two. The Trades Exhibition Hall also contains state-of-the-art simulators, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the virtual world of welding and painting.

“We wanted to create a space that feels like an actual job site,” says Soholt. Prior to entering the Hall visitors must undergo a safety orientation and are required to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while in the Hall. “We have hard hats, safety glasses and slip-on steel toe protection on-hand for students and visitors who come through the Hall,” he adds.

Since opening early 2014, the NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall has seen more than 4,500 visitors come through its doors. Visitors’ ages range from 14-50+, with grades 10 and 11 being the most common attendees. Over 60 schools from nine school boards all over Nova Scotia have made the journey to visit the Hall with bookings received up to 2019. The Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council host an annual two-day Aboriginal Youth Skilled Trades Fair in the Trades Exhibition Hall, along with visits from other special interest groups, such as the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) and Women Unlimited. The Trades Exhibition Hall operations are funded by the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.

When asked why he thinks the Hall has been so successful, Soholt says it all comes down to the interactive elements. “People, especially young people, really respond well to hands-on learning. We still provide them with the same career information we did before, but now we incorporate it into activities that get the students involved. And it’s not only the students who respond well to the hands-on; it’s teachers, parents, guidance counsellors and career seekers of any age. When we initially opened, we thought we would have about one visit per month, and now we are booking two to three visits per week!”

For more information about the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council, or the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council’s Trades Exhibition Hall, visit


Madison Tiller is the Communications Specialist at the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council where she co-ordinates tours of the NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall.