When it comes to landing a job in today's economy, local unions want to make sure that kids are ready for the challenges.
The 5th Annual Construction Career Expo is taking place through Friday at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 25 in Rock Island.
It's hammer time in the hall on Tuesday.
All that nail-pounding leads the way to a special session. Eighth graders are exploring careers in the building trades.
"I want to work in construction," said Aaron Burton, 13, who attends Mercer County Junior High in Joy, Illinois.
Burton represents more than 1,200 kids in the program. He wants it to spark his success.
"I just hope that this helps me figure out my decision in what I want to do," he said.
Union apprentice coordinator Mark Hitzner is bonding with students at one of the stops.
"Concrete is not cement," he said.
This masonry lesson is all about the next generation of workers.
"We do need trained, skilled individuals," he said. "And we need them more than ever now."
These hands-on lessons could connect kids with a trade. They're career-building exercises that just might last a lifetime.
Since many kids won't advance to college, trades provide secure alternatives. These are good paying jobs with plenty of potential.
"They know this opportunity is here," said Karen Jones, a school guidance counselor. "They'll remember that it's here for them when they turn 18."
Station by station, they're learning about possibilities and realities.
"Maybe it will push them in the right direction," said eighth grader Madi Prater.
It's a direction that's full of chances for kids.
"The only limitation you're going to have is your own imagination," concluded Hitzner.
Future dreams for kids that are getting started today.