Teens in construction? Industry groups say yes.

 
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Byline: William Morris

Minnesota law permits teens ages 16 and 17 to work in a variety of fields, often through formal apprenticeships and dual credit programs. But unlike health care facilities, farms and even many factories, construction sites are a no-go: Minors under 18are not permittedon construction projects or in mines, quarries or logging operations, among others.

With construction facing a years-long workforce shortage, it's more important than ever to get young people interested in the profession early, said David Siegel, executive director of BATC-Housing First Minnesota.

"There seems to be general recognition that we have to do a better job of providing technical career exposure to young people, because for a lot of young people, it's the right thing for them," Siegel said in an interview.

BATC and other industry groups are hoping to see the state relax its rules to allow 16- and 17-year-old workers to do certain jobs on construction sites. The idea isn't unprecedented: federal Department of Labor regulationsban 14- and 15-year-oldsfrom construction but leave the door open to older teens, and a number of states do permit 16-year-olds on the job site, Siegel said. There also would have to be restrictions to ensure safety, Siegel said, keeping teens off some of the more injury-prone jobs on a work site.

"You can put some restrictions on the equipment they would use, height, things like that, to ensure they're safe," he said. "I think it's more about exposure on the job site. It doesn't have to be a full-on construction opportunity. It's how do we get them seeing what it's like and experiencing, 'Wow, this is something I really want to do.'"

A number of legislators have expressed interest in the idea. Rep. Bob Vogel, R-Elko New Market, said the idea has come up from business advisory groups in his south metro district.

"It certainly wouldn't be in the dangerous type things," Vogel said in an interview. "But there are a number of activities that I remember being discussed that, even though they seem somewhat menial, need to be done on a construction site. They could give people an idea what [construction] is about.

"I think the idea has merit," he added. "Obviously it needs a lot of fleshing out, because you can't just throw 17-year-olds on a construction site."

Safety concerns came up repeatedly in interviews about changing the age limit. The Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades...

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