Cindy Clopton hopes to change at least one young person's life per year, and she's using all the tools at her disposal—literally.
Clopton, a mortgage banker at BOK Financial Mortgage® in Oklahoma, is a founding volunteer and enthusiastic booster for Build My Future OKC (BMFOKC), a one-day construction career day for high school students from across the Oklahoma City metro area.
At the event, which serves 10th, 11th and 12th graders, students experience hands-on exhibits from organizations in the skilled trades and the building industry. "We have every trade it takes to build a house, and everything is interactive," said Clopton. "From running a cherry picker to welding to HVAC to tilling to working with cement, students get to do it all in a day."
She initially heard about the idea while attending a Professional Women in Building (PWB) meeting for work. "I was very intrigued," said Clopton. "And then, when I found out more about what it was all about, I loved it."
Clopton and four female co-founders launched the first BMFOKC event in 2019 with 400 students. It's since grown to serve more than 1,400 young people and 40 exhibitors, who appreciate the opportunity to introduce their industry to students and future employees.
The event also prominently features trade salaries. "We post all over the building what a plumber makes per year, what an electrician makes per year," shared Clopton. "And that way, the students can see it's possible to make a good living without a college degree."
Clopton volunteers to run the "indoor" portion of BMFOKC, and she's serious about making the exhibits fun. "There's no paperwork here," she said. Previously students have roofed a dog house, read architectural renderings and competed in nail driving competitions.
"We're just giving them options," said Clopton. "Options that they didn't even know were there. That's the big thing."
Laying the foundation for a bright future
Awareness of these options is one steps towards addressing the nationwide lack of skilled tradespeople. By 2028 there will be 3 million skilled trades job openings in the U.S. Many of these jobs won't require a college degree. BMFOKC helps connect young people with trade schools, apprenticeship programs and potential job opportunities.
"College is not for everyone," said Clopton. "Many of the kids that attend can't afford college. But we still want them to have a fulfilling future. It's so neat when you see a student discover a career they didn't even know existed."
Clopton and her fellow founding volunteers have grown the event to include corporate sponsors, including Bank of Oklahoma Mortgage. The company's financial support ensures that every student receives lunch, personal safety gear, a t-shirt and a backpack.
Over the course of the day, students also hear from speakers from similar backgrounds who have found success in the trades. Clopton dreams that one day Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs will come to inspire the young people.
"I just want to help as many kids as possible," she said. "You know, you just love them all. And you hope that one gets their break. If I could change one student's life a year, I'm good with that."