BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Area builders are putting out a call to local high school students and their parents—there is an urgent need for people to help build St. Louis.

The need is so critical and building contractors are so desperate right now; they’re going straight after high school students and telling them that maybe they shouldn’t go to college.

The difference between college debt and a construction job can be staggering.

“Oh my gosh, the need is very critical,” said Donna Richter, CEO of the Southern Illinois Builders Association, an organization representing a large portion of the St. Louis area’s construction industry. “Work has increased. The problem is they don’t have the manpower to do these jobs. We have a lot of projects coming out. Our contractors have to look at the current projects and they have to decide: do I have enough people if I bid this job and get it?”

Builders would hire all 900 high school students coming through the construction career expo in Belleville, Illinois, this week. The needs are across the board, from operating engineers to running heavy equipment at construction sites to welders.

Carl Bellm of Carlinville was once a student at the same expo a few years ago. At just 22, he’s one of the instructors.

“Four more years of schooling seemed like a lot to me. (College) debt was in the back of my mind,” he said.

“It used to be that they tried to push that you should go to college and get a degree,” said Max Blechle, a junior at Chester High School likely to forego college. “I think a lot of people are starting to realize we need people to do these jobs. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to live. There’s a lot of money to make there.”

The Southern Illinois Builders Association reports that the same high school graduate who might rack up $90,000 in debt during four years of college would instead earn $175,000 or more during a union apprenticeship and come out with a $75,000–$95,000 a year job, plus top-of-the-line health care and retirement benefits.

“A lot of these students come back with their parents. They’ve got to sell their parents. A lot of times, parents don’t realize how viable this option is for them,” Richter said.

There is no shortage of work; just well-paid workers.