IRVING, Texas -- Wednesday morning, more than 1,500 high school students from across North Texas gathered at a normally-empty parking lot near DFW Airport.
They were there for the Build Your Future Career Fair, where construction and skilled-labor companies set up booths to attract prospective employees.
Organizers like Chris Peck with the Construction Education Foundation of North Texas say skilled trade and construction is lucrative option for young people who don't want to attend expensive four-year colleges.
"You don't need a four-year degree to be in this industry,” he said. “There are just so many entry points for people who can eventually run or own their own companies.”
Peck says a lack of vocational education and a building boom in North Texas is putting a strain on the current construction workforce.
"It's like a crisis level. We have a shortage in every trade,” Peck said.
The industry's problem is a plus for potential workers looking to start a career. Many students at Wednesday's event say they're drawn to construction and labor because of relatively-high starting wages, the ability to move up quickly, and start right out of high school.
"You get in there and do well, and you can make a career and a nice life," said Terry Baker, a skilled laborer who now teaches vocational classes in the Dallas area.
Nationally, skilled workers are among the hardest for employers to find. But Baker says helping create more laborers is a rewarding part of his career.
"It feels good to give back and help these young people improve their lives," Baker said.
Labor leaders say they're also looking to diversify the workforce, specifically courting women for a male-dominated industry.
While careers in construction and skilled labor allow young people to make money without accruing thousands of dollars worth of college loans, people like Peck say it's also vital for the continued growth of North Texas, where the average skilled worker is over 50 years old.
"When we have these constant labor shortages, it hikes up the price and puts a strain on these skilled workers, who can start making mistakes after being over worked," Peck said.
As the North Texas workforce continues to age and student loan debt adds up, the organizers of Wednesday’s event believe they're building a solution for both.