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Labor Management Education Committee – Lee Graham, Fall 2021

With summer coming to an end and fall quickly arriving, a quick recap of a few great things we are partnered with.

In July, Operating Engineers 324 had the honor of hosting the American Cancer Society’s Big Dig fundraiser at our Construction Career Center in Howell.  The Big Dig of Michigan allows children of all ages a hands-on and immersive introduction to the construction industry and field of STEM. OE324 and many partners provided heavy equipment that children had the opportunity to try out, create memories that will last a lifetime, leave with photos of an experience they will never forget and all in the name of raising money to combat cancer.

The American Cancer Society’s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.  The Big Dig not only raises awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research but serves as an opportunity to create excitement for the opportunities in construction and STEM that await our youth.

The event was a massive success.  The day was beautiful, the families had an amazing time, and we helped the American Cancer Society not only reach but exceed their fundraising goal.  Most notably, the event was attended by so many amazing Operating Engineers 324 members who volunteered to help with equipment, facilitation and anything else that was needed. When the opportunity to help comes up, OE324 members never fail to deliver and deliver big.  The staff of the JATF deserves much credit as well – the facility was ready to go and they facilitated this entire event flawlessly.

Finally, a thank you to the contractors who helped make this event so great!

The Big Dig 2021 was a massive success and show what kind of difference we can make in our communities and the world.

Speaking of making a difference, we are all well aware of the difference careers in the skilled trades can offer young people, and we were proud to assist with two great ongoing workforce development programs in Detroit over the summer with the most recent cohorts of Access For All and Detroit Workforce of the Future.

For the 5th consecutive year, the Detroit Workforce of the Future coalition, made up of professional trades and contractors in SE Michigan worked in conjunction with the Detroit Employment Solutions, Inc. JMG program.  To enter the program, which began in March and culminated with a graduation event on August 11, 2021, students were interviewed from Cody, Osborn, and Pershing Detroit High Schools and Randolph Career & Technical Center by facilitators in the Jobs for MI Grads program.

Over the course of the program this year, the students were able to visit several job sites, including spending time at the OE324 Construction Career Center, the Gordie Howe International Bridge, the Wayne County Jail site and Detroit Metro Airport.   Students got to speak to representatives from supporting companies and associations like Angelo Iafrate Construction Co, Ideal Contracting, Dan’s Excavating, Toebe Construction, CA Hull, Cadillac Asphalt, AJAX Paving and the Michigan Aggregates Association.

A continuing tradition, since 2019, involved a 3-day community project where students participated in neighborhood cleanup alongside the Michigan Laborers, Operating Engineers 324 and Carpenters.  The students in the Detroit Workforce of the Future program cleaned up and rehabilitated a park in Southwest Detroit and this year they were joined by students in the most recent cohort of Access For All.

The Access for All program is a construction trade apprenticeship readiness training for Detroit residents.   The 9-week “career pathway” strategy prepares Detroiters for successful entry into construction apprenticeships and/or employment in the skilled trades and Operating Engineers 324 has been a partner since its inception.

The hands-on portion of Access for All training gives students the opportunity to work at an actual construction site, dealing with difficult weather conditions, navigating around various pieces of large equipment and interacting with other project volunteers as well as with the residents in areas where the construction is taking place.

Access For All has been such a beacon for helping individuals transition into rewarding careers in the construction industry, it is expanding to other areas of the state including Flint, Saginaw and Grand Rapids.

Operating Engineers 324 hosted a press conference at our new facility in Grand Rapids to announce that the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) has been awarded a $10 million federal grant to support the state’s registered apprenticeship expansion efforts and increase employment opportunities for Michiganders.  I was able to join OE324 Apprentice Alicia Harrell, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Ajax Paving Industries, Inc.’s Christina O’Brien, Cheryl Sanford from the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) and representatives from Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity in speaking at the event.

Grant funds will be used to establish the Michigan Statewide Targeted Apprenticeship Inclusion & Readiness System (MiSTAIRS) a partnership of LEO, the Michigan Works! network, Michigan Career & Technical Institute, Michigan Association of Community and Adult Education, and the Access to Apprenticeship Consortium including OE324 and other labor and contractors.

MiSTAIRS will enable more than 1,640 workers to enroll in Registered Apprenticeship programs over a four-year period in sectors – including the expansion of Pre-Apprenticeship programs that help transition future apprentices into a great career in the trades!

Finally, in August we held our quarterly Michigan Apprenticeship Steering Committee, Inc. (MASCI) meeting in Marquette, with both a great industry reception event hosted by our friends in the Upper Peninsula Construction Council and the meeting itself held at the Presque Isle Park Pavilion.  It was a productive set of meetings to further Registered Apprenticeships in the state of Michigan.  It also gave us the opportunity to salute Tony Retaskie, who recently retired from his role as the Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council.  Tony was among the best friends of Registered Apprenticeships, the skilled trades, the Operating Engineers and he will be missed.  We wish him a happy, healthy and relaxing retirement!

All of these efforts help encourage the Operating Engineers of tomorrow and let the community know all of the work we are doing daily – to build, to maintain, to operate and to give back.  Have a great fall and stay safe!


 Lee Graham


Executive Director

Labor-Management Education Committee