Event Overview

On May 30, 2024, the Bergen County Workforce Development Board hosted the highly anticipated event “Exploring Careers That Build America: Construction and Skilled Trades” at the Bergen Community College Meadowlands Campus. The event aimed to introduce high school students to the dynamic and rewarding world of skilled trades, showcasing career opportunities in construction, electrical work, plumbing, HVAC systems, and masonry. The evening was filled with engaging activities including panel discussions, networking opportunities, and a business expo.

The panel discussion featured a group of distinguished professionals who shared their insights on the skilled trades sector, its current trends, and future opportunities. Attendees gained valuable knowledge on the importance of skilled trades in building sustainable communities and the myriad career paths available in this field.

For those who could not attend or wish to revisit the discussions, the event recording is available below:

Panelist Bios

Ryan Greff, Master of Ceremony

Ryan Greff, the Executive Director of Fair Lawn Main Street Inc., brought his extensive experience in community service and economic development to the event. As a member of the New Jersey Commission on National and Community Service, he has been a pivotal figure in numerous community initiatives.

Tammy Molinelli

Executive Director of Bergen County Workforce Development Board

Tammy Molinelli has led many initiatives to enhance job training and employment opportunities in Bergen County. Under her leadership, programs like Project SEARCH have been implemented to help young adults with disabilities develop essential workforce skills.

Ashley Brito

Entrepreneur and Board Member of The Builders Association Northern New Jersey

Ashley Brito started her career in real estate development and has since become an entrepreneur and founder of 9 Mile RE LLC. Her company focuses on assisting real estate investors and filling apartment vacancies in Passaic and Essex Counties.

Suzanne M. Wetzel

Suzanne Wetzel, Vice President of External Affairs at Bergen Community College, has a rich background in community partnerships and higher education administration. Her career spans 36 years, during which she has made significant contributions to educational institutions and community development.

Michele Leppard

Executive Officer EVP of Metropolitan Builders & Contractors Association of NJ

Michele Leppard is dedicated to workforce development in the homebuilding industry. She actively participates in career fairs and educates high school students on the lucrative opportunities in the building industry, focusing on creating a skilled workforce for the future.

Derek Weissman

Partner & Head of Asset Management at Procida Funding and Advisors

Derek Weissman oversees a portfolio exceeding $350 million in assets, including ground-up developments and historic renovations. As President of the Builders Association of Northern New Jersey, he drives membership activities and educational initiatives.

Michael Kurpiel

Michael Kurpiel has over 40 years of experience in the building industry. He has transitioned from builder and general contractor to the supply side, contributing significantly to the National Association of Home Builders and the New Jersey Builders Association.

Kathleen M. Kurpiel

Executive Vice President of the Builders Association of Northern NJ

Kathleen Kurpiel has implemented numerous programs to grow and market her association, increasing membership and providing scholarships to students pursuing careers in the building industry. She holds a master’s degree in Labor and Employment Relations from Rutgers University.

Kristie Veri

Co-founder of Cleanscape Construction

Kristie Veri leads Cleanscape Construction, a company specializing in commercial and residential construction. She is actively involved in various builders’ associations and has received awards for her contributions to the industry.

Frank Belgiovine

Frank Belgiovine has extensive experience in general construction, construction management, and real estate development. He has been involved in developing over $200 million in real estate and managing large-scale construction projects.


The in-demand trades and skills within the construction sector include:

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Masons
  • Carpenters
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) technicians

These roles are crucial as the construction industry faces a severe labor shortage and will always need skilled tradespeople and builders.

The key benefits of pursuing a career in the construction industry include:

  • High-Paying Jobs: The industry offers high-paying opportunities.
  • Diverse Opportunities: There are numerous roles available, such as electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters, and HVAC technicians.
  • Growth Potential: You can start early, get your feet wet, and grow in various directions within the industry.
  • Job Security: The construction industry is never at a loss for a need for tradespeople and builders.
  • Satisfaction: Working in construction, whether in single-family residential, multifamily, or commercial projects, can be very satisfying.
  • Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships provide full-time, paying jobs with structured training programs.
  • Opportunities for Women: There are increasing opportunities for women in the industry, with advocacy for more female participation.
  • Impact: The ability to see tangible results from your work, such as driving through areas where you’ve contributed to building projects.

These benefits make the construction industry an appealing career choice for many.

Young people can get started in the construction industry without a college degree through several pathways:

  • Apprenticeship Programs: These provide full-time, paying jobs with structured training. Programs like those offered by ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) are examples.
  • Entry-Level Positions: Starting in entry-level positions such as laborers or assistants to tradespeople (e.g., electricians, plumbers, masons) allows young people to gain hands-on experience.
  • On-the-Job Training: Many construction companies offer on-the-job training, allowing individuals to learn and develop skills while working.
  • Exploring Different Trades: Young people can explore various trades within the industry to find their area of interest and expertise.
  • Networking and Mentorship: Connecting with professionals in the industry and seeking mentorship can provide guidance and opportunities for growth.

These pathways provide practical experience and skill development, making it possible to build a successful career in construction without a college degree.


For more information on career opportunities, education, and apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades, explore the following resources:

We hope this event has inspired you to explore the exciting and fulfilling careers in the skilled trades industry. Thank you for joining us in shaping the future of America’s workforce!

Thank you to our event partners

  • Amazon
  • American Welding Society
  • Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
  • Belmont Construction Corporation
  • Bergen County Workforce Development Board
  • Bergen Community College
  • Builders Association of Northern New Jersey
  • Carter Lumber
  • Cleanscape Construction
  • Eastwick College
  • Metropolitan Builders & Contractors Assoc. of NJ
  • 9 Mile RE LLC
  • Procida Funding
  • Servant’s Heart Ministries