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Maryville High Schools students had opportunities this week to try welding, driving an 18-wheeler, moving dirt with an excavator, working from a lineman’s bucket truck and more, all safely with simulators and virtual reality.

The Be Pro Be Proud tour brought a 53-foot trailer to MHS with all the equipment for students to check out high-demand and high-paying jobs on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 9 and 10.

“We’re out here trying to spark interest for jobs that have been forgotten about and need to be filled,” explained Alison Lewis, a brand ambassador for the tour.

Be Pro Be Proud operates in more than half a dozen states and is led here by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce with numerous supporters including Arconic Foundation, DENSO, Tennessee Valley Authority, Vulcan Materials Co., Meta and AT&T. The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association is a partner too, and the city of Maryville sent lineworkers to talk with students at MHS, Lewis said.

Registering through the website connects students to training and employment opportunities, including organizations that will pay for their education after high school. The teens also have a chance to win a PlayStation gaming console or a Tennessee Titans jersey.

The website also shows information on the potential earnings from 18 high-demand professions. For example, foresters earn a median income of $50,000, and computer programmers a median of $89,190.

The top 10% in four of the fields — programmer, automotive service technicians, fiber optic technicians and lineworkers — earn more than $100,000 a year. Plumbers, electricians and automation technicians come close at the top of their pay scales.

Maryville construction teacher David Allen learned about the tour at a career and technical education conference before the school year and applied for MHS to be included.

“A lot of parents still think of construction as basic labor,” he explained.

Experiencing the jobs through the simulators is almost like a video game for the students, the teacher explained, and it helps them realized that they could do these types of jobs.

MHS junior Sayer McNelly, a junior who has driven a real bulldozer, said the simulator felt realistic.

Sophomore Kyle Guillory has done welding in real life and was taking advantage of the opportunity to try the bucket truck lineworker simulator and the excavator. While getting used to the controls may take some effort, he said, “You get into a flow.”

“We’d like for everyone to get to go through,” Allen said, but with a limit of 25-30 students per class period this visit was mainly limited to students in construction classes at the high school or junior high and those in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes. Displays also included a 3D printer and CNC (computer numerical control) tools used in manufacturing.

With virtual reality goggles, students could try their hand at fields such as plumbing, carpentry and diesel technicians. One simulator seat with wide screens in front provided the experience of a driving a Cat bulldozer, while another area of the trailer could be set to give students the sense of driving an 18-wheeler, school bus or SWAT vehicle.