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A Key to Success in Construction Trades

By Arnesa A. Howell



A (TRAINING) PARTNERSHIP Bridget Maley (left) of Catholic Charities talks with DCSCTF Program Director Beth Moore during 2017 National Apprenticeship Week.

Ask Valarie Hunt about the construction trade opportunities the UPO Workforce Institute provides those it serves, and she easily offers up a former student as an exemplar of success. This single mom of one was on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), didn’t have a home and knew she wanted off the assistance program, recalls Hunt. After completing UPO’s professional building maintenance course, receiving industry-recognized certification and securing affordable housing, this young woman opened her own business contracting carpentry and other skilled work in the District of Columbia. She ultimately moved on to Texas to flip houses.

"These are entrepreneurship vocational tracks that can help you develop and start your own construction business,” says Hunt, division director of the United Planning Organization’s Workforce Institute. In this scenario, it’s the portability of accreditation from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) that proved key to this graduate’s life trajectory.

“She really is the holistic version of what we want to see happen for our clients—she blossomed,” Hunt adds.

The UPO Workforce Institute is one of two primary training partners of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation (DCSCTF), which works in part to make adult skilled trade education and training accessible to District residents. Through its relationship with UPO and its second training partner Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DCSCTF is providing critical support to select nonprofits: NCCER accreditation for pre-apprenticeship training.

“They are meeting all the standards for reaching industry-recognized credentials,” says Foundation Program Director Beth Moore.



HORIZON OF OPPORTUNITY Student Mehki McClam, who aspires for certification in electrical after graduation, signs up to learn about UPO opportunities at the National Apprenticeship Week Open House at IDEA PCS.

“And that’s the reason we are partnering with them—to make sure that their employees, upon completing training, are leaving work ready.”

Mark Drury, vice president of business development at Rockville, Md.-based Shapiro & Duncan, affirms that the strength in the NCCER credentialing is its portability and universal acceptance. “It gives a certain level of comfort and guarantee to any company anywhere,” he says. “All your credentials are kept in a national database, so a future or current employer can pull them up to validate how well you’ve done and what you’ve learned.” The level of rigor in the coursework lays the foundation for completing an apprenticeship program, getting a journeyman’s license, and becoming a master of the trade, he says.

As a District-based, NCCER-accredited sponsor working with a cross-section of the population, the Foundation is in a unique position to help those looking to secure a foothold in the construction trades industry, according to Moore. And that journey begins with the training partners.


The Building Careers Academy: A New Day
Once a freestanding program, the Building Careers Academy (or BCA) is now part of the Workforce Institute (although a physical site remains at Girard Street in Northeast). Here, at the construction trade center, trainings are currently held in the areas of telecommunications, electrical and professional building maintenance—with a “hint of carpentry,” says Hunt, noting that plumbing is no longer being offered and may be replaced in the future.

The target demographic includes men and women with a “sliver” of employment—either low income or underemployed—but without the skill set to move forward, and upward. “They need a vocational track to help beef up a skill set to do the job,” says Hunt.

And the goal for those participating in the 12-week construction prong of the UPO Workforce Institute? “To assist individuals to receive national certifications in high demand labor markets that lead to employment that is at—or above—minimum wage, resulting in a pathway to the middle class,” according to Hunt.

Enrollment criteria include being at least 18 years of age and meeting income thresholds, with funding for District residents under a community service block grant. Other prerequisites include drug screening and criminal background check, although Hunt stresses that as a second chance organization “all of our certifications and vocational tracks are criminal-justice forgiving.”

The Institute serves a large reentry population, and Hunt explains the vocational and construction-related trainings are designed to ensure each prospective student is prepared to academically handle the curriculum. Plus, have the support needed to either advance to an apprenticeship or directly into employment.

Still, she admits it can be challenging serving populations that face academic hurdles. “If you live in the inner city and come from a low-class neighborhood, a lot of times you are passed through,” Hunt says, noting these young people are then ill equipped for future opportunities. “When that happens, you do a disservice to the students.”



POSING WITH A PURPOSE The Class of 2015 readies for the journey ahead after graduating from the Catholic Charities’ Green Pre-apprenticeship Construction Program.

Pathways in Green Construction


For Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, a primary goal is to provide its diverse student population pursuing certification in green construction with the advanced skills and training needed to find sustainable employment after graduation, according to Julieta Machado, director of immigrant support service at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “We’re here to introduce students to a program in which they can grow and continue to specialize,” she says. “With so many construction jobs in the area and so very few qualified skilled people in D.C. to apply for these jobs, it’s important to get certification.”


This 10-week Green Pre-apprenticeship Construction Program focuses on “green” building, including weatherization, recycling and how to dispose of materials that are not safe for the environment. Ultimately, the program prepares each graduate to gain an entry-level construction job, then move forward to an apprenticeship program or seek out other opportunities within the com- pany, or start a business.


The program largely serves District residents, and is especially important because it gives individuals who may not have an opportunity to go off to college or another alternative a successful career pathway, adds Bridget Maley, program manager of Enterprise Education and Employment at Catholic Charities.


As part of its four-year, ongoing partnership with the Foundation, the program teaches pre-apprenticeship construction using the NCCER curriculum. “The Foundation provides extra training, is diligent in the issuing of certificates and is a wonderful resource of information on the curriculum, construction and jobs,” says Machado.


Maley stresses the value of receiving NCCER certification, and notes the program also helps improve student math skills, and indirectly, literacy skills. “And for immigrants and refugees, it’s a very important program because many of them come from their home countries with construction experience but no certification,” adds Machado.


While the Green Pre-apprenticeship Construction Program has diversified from its origins of largely serving immigrants and refugees from Latin America, says Machado, it still helps all in need—providing a range of support services. Workforce development services include resume development, interview preparation and online application assistance, plus connecting students with employers through open house sessions. Meanwhile, critical case management services assist with housing, childcare and other issues that can be a challenge to a student continuing in the program.


Is D.C. (Workforce) Ready?
Within the District, there has long been a tug-of-war between the value of career and technical education, and its blue-collar cachet. However, Hunt believes the city overall understands the necessity of workforce development, readiness and vocational training.


“It needs to be an option that is supported for folks who are able to graduate from high school or get a GED, if you want to move the District’s reduction in poverty,” Hunt stresses. “We need to bring vocational training back into high school if not middle school. We need to start prepping our young minds early enough to show them the different levels of career paths.”








































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