City Residents Ready to Go
(2/21/2007) Program Prepares New Haven Residents for Carpentry Apprenticeship
Wallingford, CT – The group listens intently as union contractor Craig Frenkel, owner of WDJ Construction, explains his personnel philosophy. “Communication is important. If you communicate with us, we can work with you to figure out what you like to do, what you are good at, and where you can fit in on the jobsite. If you don’t talk to me, I can’t help you.”
The six New Haven residents sitting around the table are open to thoughtful guidance as they enter the unknown world of construction. Frenkel is interviewing them for Phase II of the Quinnipiac Terrace project, one of the largest jobs in the city. Phase I finished successfully last fall, a showcase of the New England Council’s recent inroads into the residential construction market.
Only a couple of weeks earlier the six residents had celebrated their graduation from the rigorous “boot camp” of the city’s construction readiness program, Construction Workforce Initiative II. “We are very demanding,” says Nichole Jefferson, Executive Director of the city department that oversees the program, “because we want them to know what it’s going to be like out there. If they’re late, we send them home.”
The effort is paying off. Frenkel and other contractors report that the four month program is yielding candidates who are well prepared to succeed in the unfamiliar world of the city’s school construction program and the construction boom at Yale. Both Yale and the city have made an unprecedented commitment to finding, training, and employing city residents who can succeed in the construction trades and cycle those tax and PILOT dollars back into New Haven’s economy. And the New England Council is committed to being a leader among the building trades in working with Jefferson’s department to make the program a success. “We want to make this real,” says Jefferson, “and we couldn’t do it without the union training programs to pick up the task of training our graduates once they get on the job.”
The program is a long term attempt to correct the problems of the past where, with the skilled trades workforce retiring in large numbers and middle class people moving out of the city, skilled construction jobs in New Haven tended to be filled exclusively by non city residents. Existing city affirmative action requirements were perceived by residents as short term windfalls where you could push a broom for good money but would never learn the skills to stay employed long term. Meanwhile, many city residents were unemployed or underemployed and not sure where their chance for a better life might come from. Today the difference is training – starting with the city’s rigorous CWI program and continuing with the efforts of Local 24’s journeypeople and foremen working with the apprentices day to day. NERCC organizers also worked with the city to set up a new training program for housing authority residents; the carpentry class is taught by UBC member Austin Watts.
“Everyone’s happy when they begin to realize that this can work,” says Local 24 President Chuck Appleby. “It’s the stories that move you – like the single mom that starts to make some decent money and pretty soon you realize she’s the anchor for her whole extended family. There was one promising young carpenter, when he first got on the job, all [the business agent] heard was that he had an attitude and he wouldn’t listen to anyone. They were going to lay him off, and we said to the foreman, ‘There’s a cultural difference here. Give him another chance, try again to talk to him and see if you can work it out.’ Now everyone’s telling us he’s one that’s going to make it and be an excellent carpenter.”
With the insistence of the biggest construction owners in New Haven, contractors that bid on those jobs realize that they need to build training of New Haven residents into their bids upfront. With a construction boom on the horizon in the city, the early signs are hopeful that a diverse workforce of skilled New Haven residents and non-residents can work together, get the job done, and ensure a productive union-friendly environment for years to come.
Contact Name: Margaret Conable
Contact Phone: (203) 650-5534