When he was 3 years old, my nephew Ryan spent two full hours watching a utility crew use a backhoe-loader to replace some pipe along his street. It was the longest period of uninterrupted time the child had concentrated on something, including the television, so before they knew it my sister and brother-in-law were driving Ryan around their Wisconsin town in search of other jobsites.
I was working for a construction equipment magazine, so the next time they visited I took them to a Caterpillar dealership rodeo. Ryan quickly learned that working a mini-excavator is much more difficult than it looks. I sent him posters and miniature rep li cas of wheel loaders, bulldozers, motor graders, com pactors, trenchers, skidsteer loaders, cranes, and other construction equipment.
I referred Ryan's parents to www.construct myfuture.com, a resource for parents, teachers, and students to learn about careers in an industry that represents 10% of the nation's gross domestic product and employs roughly seven million people. "As food and water are to human existence, we dare you to consider what construction is to the world," the Web site's opening page reads. "Take away roads, facilities, power plants, and underground utilities, and you're back in the Dark Ages."
I told Ryan, and still do, that in addition to operating those cool machines, he can design them, sell them, rent them, and fix them and/or manage the people who operate, design, sell, rent, and fix them.
So it was good to hear at last month's American Public Works Association (APWA) convention that 40,000 copies of "Discovering the World of Public Works," a curriculum for kindergarteners through fifth-graders, have been sold. The association just launched a similar program for grades six through eight. In addition to a guide for teachers, the curriculum includes a novel titled Mystery of the Night Vandals (i.e., folks like the young man pictured on this issue's cover).
If an industry--particularly one as invisible to the average citizen as public works--waits until children become teenagers before reaching out to them, it may be too late to begin educating them about the vast and vital role that infrastructure plays.
The association's curricula, just like National Public Works Week, represents that touchy-feely image-building that's so important to the profession and so difficult to quantify for elected officials. So I applaud the APWA, and all the PUBLIC WORKS readers who find a way to make customers care.