Building Capacity for our Construction Industry…One Student at a Time
Earlier this month, I attended the graduation of 17 students from the third cohort of the Detroit Workforce of the Future (DWF) program. This 16-week program provides juniors and seniors from three Detroit high schools with exposure, skills, and work experience that prepare them for a registered apprenticeship in the construction industry. In addition to building capacity for our construction industry, this initiative provides individuals with opportunities to enter high-demand career pathways, directly supporting Southeast Michigan’s economic growth and implementing a key recommendation of SEMCOG/MAC Future Skills Task Force.
The 16-week course includes 10 weeks of industry training at the Operating Engineers 324 training center in Detroit, followed by field trips to MI Construction Career Days Days, the Construction Science Expo at the Michigan Science Center, and tours of participating employers to learn about skilled trades and other pathways in the industry. The program culminates in a week-long paid work experience on a community construction project, where students are evaluated for their work ethic, safety, time management, and other skills.
Three graduates talked about what they got out of the program:
- Rakia Ray said that she appreciated “getting career exposure and giving back to the community” through the community construction project.
- Shantania Davis appreciated the support of the training instructors and felt that she was “ready for anything we want to do” after getting her OSHA 30 certificate.
- Jeremiah Watson said he didn’t know much about construction before but “loved learning about rocks and sand and having fun at work.”
Each graduate received a toolbox from Carhartt. The company also donates boots, safety glasses, vests, and other equipment that allows students to participate in the program.
Like all successful talent development programs, DWF depends on collaboration between education, workforce development, and employers. Each year, the number of partners continues to grow. Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, and Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, along with the Operating Engineers 324 and the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute represented workforce development. Detroit Public Schools Community District recommended the students, and 10 construction companies signed on to host day-long field trips where they discussed career opportunities.
Two 2018 DWF graduates are now working with one of the employer partners. Now with Iafrate Construction, Brenda Davis, Cody High School Valedictorian, Randolph Career Technical Center graduate, and Operating Engineer apprentice, said, “McDonald’s is not the only path if you don’t want to go to college…. Construction is tough at first but once you learn you can’t stop. Detroit Workforce of the Future is the best program I’ve ever been through.”
In the final week of this year’s program, students worked with Life Remodeled, an organization that exists to “bridge people across divides in order to help transform each other’s lives [by investing] in remodeling a community asset, repairing owner-occupied homes, and mobilizing over 10,000 volunteer to beautify 200 city blocks in six days.” DWF students helped with clearing blighted alleyways that had not been cleared since 1961. With support from program sponsors, they worked with instructors and thousands of volunteers from around the country in the rain to make a positive difference in the community. Take a look at the results of their work.
Programs such as DWF are an important part of exposing and preparing high school students for making decisions about their postsecondary education and career choices. Even if the takeaway is that a particular career is not for them, students learn about the importance of safety, teamwork, being drug-free, being engaged, giving back to the community, and connecting with resources for career development. Stephanie Nixon, Chief Program Officer for Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, the city’s workforce development agency told the graduates, “This program helps change the conversation about talent in Detroit. It gives you the opportunity to learn, change your life, your family’s life, and the city, and to be role models.”
State Representative Leslie Love told students to make the most of the opportunity to learn a professional trade by being present, ready, able, and willing to work hard because “people you don’t even know are looking out for you.”