I recently attended the Bauma trade fair in Germany, which is the subject of this month’s cover story. The sheer size is the first thing that impresses the visitor. In my three times attending Bauma, I’ve never come close to seeing all of it and would need weeks to do so, not just a few days. Organizers said about 530,000 people attended from more than 200 countries, plus 3,420 exhibitors from 57 countries. I’ve heard people say it’s three times ConExpo, if you’ve ever been there, but it seems more than that. To be concise, it took up 570,000 square meters, which is 6.3 million square feet.

It is held in the old Munich airport. Imagine O’Hare Airport with all the terminals, hangars and runways covered with construction equipment stands and just an absolute sea of humanity everywhere you go, and you can start to imagine it.

Some of the equipment is huge, and I’m not just talking about Genie’s new 180-foot boomlift. There were cranes bigger than any I’d seen before, and some of the earthmoving machines made 100,000-pound hydraulic excavators seem like nothing special. And that Liebherr dump truck that looked like a three-story building with tires that were 25 or 30 feet high, and there was always a line around the block of people wanting to go inside the machine and take a tour of it, like people do of aircraft carriers.

Also impressive are the exhibit stands, many of which include two-, three- and four-story structures that take a couple of months to construct, with offices and conference rooms and even kitchens. Hundreds of companies serve full-course meals, which they invite their customers for. Full bars are not out of the ordinary and beer is served everywhere, with companies having their own kegs, in seemingly infinite variety. And if you’re a coffee aficionado, most of the stands, indoor and outdoor, have their own espresso machines as well.

As I said, there were about 530,000 attendees, and in parts of the outdoor area when you’re trying to walk from one area to another, it feels like they are all right there, just a sea of humanity speaking different languages. And if you aren’t comfortable in international gatherings, don’t come to Bauma.

But the most impressive thing about Bauma to me was not the size or the equipment or the food, but something far more fundamental. On the afternoon of the first day, in a certain area of the show, I and a colleague noticed hundred of teenagers milling about with skateboards and backpacks, talking and laughing and joking around the way teenagers all over the world do. We wondered what they were doing there and I checked into it and found out that no fewer than 170 German secondary schools were in attendance at programs organized by the show in conjunction with manufacturers. They were presented seminars about the equipment and the advanced technology that is used to design it and operate it. They were given tours of some of the stands and the machines and given an idea of what it takes to build and operate them.

I reflected on the lack of such programs in the United States. Does any organization really show the younger generation the kinds of opportunities that could await them in the construction industry? To a younger generation fascinated by the technology in cell phones and computers and Xbox games, do they know that there is increasingly advanced technology at play in the design of equipment and systems? I thought about my teenage son and how so many of his days at school are spent in classroom lectures that seem irrelevant to him, learning and memorizing an endless series of facts and dates. And I thought about how cool it would be if he could spend a school day at something like this where he could learn about the technology and have people show him these amazing machines. How cool it would be to show young people that while they might dream of becoming an NBA basketball player, rap star or professional skateboarder, they could someday be designing and building an aerial work platform or an excavator or a crane, and that could also be fun and rewarding.

With all the different trade shows we participate in in construction and rental and so on, maybe someone somewhere might think about how we can include young people, who are not only the future of this industry but the future of the world we live in. It would be great if they could learn about things besides war and violence and terrorism. They need opportunities to participate and learn and grow in positive ways and we can make a difference. rer