Over 7,000 grade 7-12 students from across Eastern Ontario are descending on Ottawa this week.

They’re all taking part in Future Building 2017, billed as Canada’s largest skilled construction trades career exhibition.

The free event, now in its 13th year, is designed to introduce students, aboriginal youth, youth at risk and even adults looking for a new career to the building and construction industry. It includes plenty of hands-on exhibits from virtual welding to actual wall-building.

The industry is facing a shortage of workers in coming years as tradespeople of the baby boomer generation reach retirement. “Over the next 10 years we're going to need at least 11,000 new tradespeople,” says Wayne Peterson, a board member with the Ontario Construction Secretariat. “And that's without any new construction coming on board. That's just to meet the retirement."

That number is just for Eastern Ontario. Across Canada it could be as high as one million.

Peterson says people entering the trades not only have a good chance of getting a job, but a good-paying job as well.

He says the challenge is to sell kids or, more importantly, their parents on choosing a skilled trade over a university degree.

Ellen Wong agrees. She is a Client Service Officer with Algonquin College in Pembroke. “A lot of students are told that they’re university-bound,” she says. “They don’t really get to explore the trades.”

The irony is that many who go that route end up in the trades anyway after failing to find work in their chosen field. “I was on the sheet metal apprenticeship committee in Toronto,” says Peterson. “We found a large number of our new apprentices were people with college and university degrees.”

Future Building 2017 runs to May 18th at the E.Y. Centre.