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Lisa Loving of The Skanner News
Published: 29 September 2011

Pat Daniels, Bob Boyer and Dave Drinkward of the Constructing Hope Pre-Apprenticeship Program


With all the talk about jobs creation coming out of government offices, there's at least one small local nonprofit that is actually doing it.

The Constructing Hope Pre-Apprenticeship Program provides training, equipment and job mentoring to clients referred through the criminal justice system – and with the help of local unions and construction companies, they are now placing their graduates right into family-wage jobs.

"With the changes in the economy, construction is a viable career, it pays a lot of money, and a person can start a construction career and have a living wage," says Director Pat Daniels.

"We do target people who have a legal history, because our belief is that once you've done your time you deserve a second chance," she says.

Low-income minority men and women from the community are also referred through Worksystems, Inc., and other jobs programs – but even if you are referred you have to pass an interview process to win selection.

And while the program is free for participants -- funded through grants from the Portland Development Commission and the United Way of hte Columbia Willamette – it is not for the faint of heart.

At the center of the program is a nine-week construction pre-apprenticeship training. The course content is heavy and varied, leaving those who make it to the end with: flagging, fork-lift and CPR/first aid certifications; computer skills, a digital resume and email; a driver's license; hundreds of dollars worth of tools plus work boots and a saw horse hand-built by the worker (required equipment for many trades); a portfolio of job experience including construction work on an array of volunteer projects that partner with Constructing Hope; and relationships with members of the trade unions or companies that do the hiring – and the training – including Laborers Local 296, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Oregon and Southern Idaho Laborers.

The benchmark certifications alone are daunting: tests on introduction to blueprint reading; math basics; tool identification; and hands-on training are just a start.

For the students that do best, acing the tests and fulfilling all requirements, the reward can be direct-entry into the Pacific Northwest Carpenters' Union -- a major partner in Constructing Hope.
"Once they enter the program our key thing is that we want to give them a great foundation to begin construction," Daniels says. "Introduction to blueprint reading – they're tested on that, just knowing the basics in it; we want to make sure everyone's math level is at a point where they can actually use a tape measure, add, multiply, divide, fractions.

But, Daniels says, the biggest component of the program is life skills.

"The life skills component is their financial management; it's your construction culture, and where we're talking about attendance, and right now, we're starting our new program, Tuesday through Thursday from 6:45 a.m. through 3:45 p.m.," she said.

"If you're late, you're out," Daniels says. "If you come unprepared, you're out. If you skip class, you're out.

"On the other hand, if you come prepared and put out your best effort, we will help you meet the job qualifications and get you employed," she says.

"Once thing we've done differently since last year is we have individuals from Hoffman Construction and other companies come in and interview the applicants for the training program, so that we have industry helping select the people that we invest this training in," Daniels says. "That way everybody's on the same page – the students, and the people who are doing the hiring at the end."

Since last year, Daniels says, they've added more math components to their training to help students do better on their final exam – which lasts two hours and covers everything from cement forms to tools.

As they tinker with the trainings, Daniels says, they're considering adding another class of 20 students with the potential to graduate 80 to 100 new workers a year straight into construction jobs.

"The class is set up to show them the level of expectations that they're going to need to meet to go into that trade," Daniels says.

"Once you gain the skills – the foundation – you can grow," says former state Sen. Bob Boyer, a Constructing Hope board member. "You do not launch a rocket off of sand, you launch a rocket off of concrete. So having a firm foundation can launch you off in many different directions.

"The foundation that we have at Constructing Hope – our young people can go in from labor, or they can go into carpentry apprenticeship program, sheet metal, electrician, heavy equipment, driving trucks, drywall, plastering – all kinds of things, but they need a firm foundation."

"We've provided advice not only on what to teach and how to teach it, but also provided teachers – our staff are actually coming in and teaching the class," says Dave Drinkward from Hoffman. "The benefit for us is we see qualified people coming into the trades, which is equally important, and for us – there's quotas and numbers that we like to hit but it's not really about that. It's really about getting qualified people in, making sure they have a foundation as Sen. Boyer talked about, making sure they're set up for success once they get there, and they can actually have a long, fruitful career that will help them to support their families and build a future."

For more information go to www.constructinghope.com , or call 503-281-1234.

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