ST. CHARLES, Mo. — More than 1,000 teenagers packed the St. Charles Family Arena on Wednesday to learn more about successful trade careers as they prepare for life after high school.

The Home Builders’ Association held its “Build My Future” event at the arena, where teens from 31 area high schools gathered.

“I came out here because I was interested in the welding programs, primarily,” said Ian Shaw, a student at Francis Howell North High School. “I started looking around and found a lot of stuff that was pretty interesting.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson even stopped by to speak to the students about hands-on opportunities.

“I think really what we need to do is more of this across the state to make sure high school kids understand that college is not the only path,” said Parson. “I think when you look at Missouri, and 70% do not have college degrees, the vast majority of that is your workforce.”

Jeremy Roth, president of the Home Builders’ Association, said there are more than 400,000 open positions in the construction industry nationwide.

“It’s a need and necessity for our industry and for our region,” said Roth. “If our region is going to thrive, we have to invest in workforce development.”

Students like Jacob Smith, who attends Liberty High School in Lake St. Louis, said it’s an “outstanding” time to learn a skilled trade.

“It’s a big industrial boom right now, and everything is just going to keep growing,” said Smith.

Joey Smith, another Liberty High student, added: “I’ve heard the same thing talking to some people right here, and they said it’s the best time to sign up and do training and everything because everybody is hiring.”