All builders have to start somewhere. The national Block Kids Building Competition aims to inspire budding builders while they’re still in their short pants, as the saying goes.

New kids with blocks

Sponsored by the National Association of Women in Construction Education Foundation, Block Kids is a free program open to children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Children who enter are given a set of 75 to 100 Lego-like blocks and other materials, including a small rock, string, foil, and poster board or cardstock. With the blocks and at least three of the other materials, the small builders have between 45 minutes and an hour to create a structure.

“We have seen quite a variety of things come out of the competition,” says Leah Curran, the Block Kids national chair. “We get a lot of towers or windmills. Cranes are popular, as are structures and buildings. Somebody built an emergency shelter. It can be anything that they think of that’s construction related. Sometimes, they do their houses.”

Local NAWIC chapters host Block Kids events. Local winners advance to regional competitions, and one semi-finalist is entered into the national competition, where the top three projects receive awards.

Planting a seed

The goal of the program is to introduce children to the construction industry and raise awareness about the many different career options available in the field. Any chance to expose youngsters to the industry is essential to its long-term viability, especially as construction companies across the country are reportedly struggling to fill positions.

Besides serving as the Block Kids national chair and chapter president of the Wilmington, Delaware, NAWIC chapter, Curran handles business development, marketing and several other functions at Tri-Supply & Equipment, a family-owned business that rents and sells construction equipment and supplies based in New Castle, Delaware.

According to Curran, whether any of the students who’ve participated in Block Kids end up going into construction is anyone’s guess.

“They’re still young,” she notes. “What we want for Block Kids, specifically, is a way to introduce children to the construction industry. We want to make an effort to create awareness and promote careers. You’ve got to remember they’re younger, so they’re not that familiar with what construction is—though some are. We’ve had them come in wearing their own hard hats.”

A budding interest

In addition to NAWIC chapters, other organizations can host Block Kids events. Curran says setting up a program is simple and urges anyone interested to visit the NEF website, which includes the program handbook and guidelines for the materials and events.

In 2017, 72 NAWIC chapters hosted Block Kids programs, Curran says. About 2,655 children participated in the program: 1,211 girls and 1,444 boys. Many students participate year after year.

“They actually will go and practice for their projects the next year at home, which is rewarding in itself,” she says. “One of the most rewarding things is probably seeing the numbers of children we actually get to participate. We had over 2,600 participants last year—it’s exciting that we’ve been able to reach that many students and are making an impact.”

Another gratifying aspect of the program is seeing the involvement from NAWIC members and local construction professionals, Curran says.

“It’s really cool to see how excited they are, since construction is currently lacking in people who want to work in the industry.”