Home Construction Yonkers IDA program provides ‘Pathways’ to career in booming construction field

Yonkers IDA program provides ‘Pathways’ to career in booming construction field

Instructor Duane Townes works with students in the Yonkers Pathways to Apprenticeship program. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh.

The nonprofit Pathways to Apprenticeship (P2A) is already gearing up for the anticipated January launch of its next training course in Yonkers designed to put young people on a career course in the construction industry. Not too long ago, on the fourth floor of the Yonkers Parking Authority building in the city’s downtown during a humid August afternoon, Herlema Owens was instructing a group of about 10 Yonkers residents on safely utilizing power tools.

On the other side of the room, Duane Townes leads a similar size group through a lesson on measurements using wooden square blocks.

The room hosts 20 students total, the first cohort for the Yonkers Pathways to Apprenticeship, a program launched this past summer in an effort to connect the city’s unemployed or underemployed young residents with careers in the building trades.

Called P2A for short, the 25-day program prepares its students for direct entry into paid union apprenticeships in building trades that put each student on the path to become, among other careers, laborers, carpenters and electricians.

The course’s lead instructor, Townes, is a P2A graduate himself from a course in New York City and a journeyman with the Local 79 union. Owens is president and founder of the Association of Women Construction Workers of America, Inc.

The Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (IDA) launched the city’s program in collaboration with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. The IDA will fund three courses total at a cost of $250,000.

The first course wrapped up in the first week of September, with 13 of its 20 students placed in paid apprenticeships as of the Business Journal’s press time.

Construction was one of the five fastest-growing job fields in New York over the past 12 months, according to state Labor Department data. The field added 15,000 jobs between August 2017 and August 2018 in New York. The national Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, expects employment in construction and extraction fields to grow 11 percent nationwide over the next 10 years, faster than average for all occupations. Among those categorized as extraction workers are earth drillers, blasters and derrick operators.

But Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, who is also chairman of the IDA, said the city’s young residents may not consider the building trades as a career option. The IDA hopes the program will introduce more Yonkers residents to the industry, and possibly a chance to benefit from the jobs created in a billion-dollar development boom along the city’s waterfront and downtown.

“This exposes young men and women to an industry they may not have otherwise been exposed to, (and) gives them the grasp of what they need to go in and become journeyman, laborers, or work in plumbing, electrical, carpentry,” Spano said.

The nonprofit Pathways to Apprenticeships organization in charge of the program has been running similar courses in New York City since 2014, which were initially focused on helping people who were re-entering society after incarceration launch careers in the construction trades.

The program expanded to include people from low-income communities, as well as those who live in public housing. In 2017, the state Department of Labor approved P2A as a direct entry organization, meaning its participants have direct access to interviews for apprenticeships from 15 different unions apart from general recruitment, which can be extremely competitive.

Students and instructors for the Yonkers Pathways to Apprenticeship course pose with Mayor Mike Spano. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh.

Once students complete the course, they receive a certificate of completion that qualifies them for union apprenticeships, as well as an interview for an apprenticeship with a local union. Since its founding, P2A has assisted 235 people from low-income communities, two-thirds of whom were formerly incarcerated, be admitted into a building trades apprenticeship program.

The Yonkers course runs five days per week, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Students are told to arrive 15 minutes early, same as would be expected on a job site, course directors say. The program teaches hard skills, such as learning to safely use a saw, power tools and taking proper measurements.

“People generally have these skills, but they haven’t worked on them for a while,” said Dominique Bravo, executive director of Pathways to Apprenticeship. “We get them to where they will be able to be successful in the apprenticeship class.”

But P2A also emphasizes soft skills, such as conducting interviews, budgeting, presenting positive body language, handling workplace conflict and working with supervisors. They also make visits to job sites and to union offices and training centers.

“Our mission at P2A is not just to get people in,” Bravo said. “We want people to be successful. We want to see them take ownership of this industry.”

One of the Yonkers students, Joseph Abraham, said in August that a visit to the headquarters of a Long Island carpenters’ union sparked an interest in carpentry in particular.

Seeing the work the carpenters had completed to furnish their own training headquarters, “opened my eyes,” Abraham said. He has worked in general construction before but said he is now planning to pursue the carpentry trade.

“This program,” he said, “has given us all the tools necessary to be successful in the union.”

Jennifer Candelario, a Yonkers resident who studied in the course’s first cohort, described her interest in the pre-apprenticeship program during an interview using a phrase heard often in the classroom. An apprenticeship in the building trades offers the chance, she said, “at a career, not a job.”

“As it says, pathway: this opens that pathway for you,” Candelario said. “This is that pathway to a better future, a better career.”

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