Alameda County launches new construction training program

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By Vivian Lopez – 

The Salvation Army in Alameda County, California, recently concluded its pilot three-week Construction Training Program, held in partnership with Associated Builders and Constructors, Inc.-Northern California Chapter (ABC Norcal) at the Oakland Chinatown Corps—just the latest workforce development program in the Del Oro Division.

“It came out of the Construction Training Program in Sacramento,” said Major James Sullivan, Divisional Secretary for Alameda County. “We had a desire to copy that program and to bring that here. It’s a pathway to a higher wage career. A lot of people don’t think they have a chance because of their history. They have arrest records [and] criminal records. Most of the construction folks are willing to hire even people with difficult paths.”

The 10 program participants were referred by the Oakland Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), Oakland Chinatown Corps, the Garden Street Emergency Family Shelter and the community. They’ll soon take part in a graduation ceremony and job fair to be connected to employment in the Bay Area’s construction industry.

“A lot of our men who are getting out of the ARC are looking for employment. And around the Bay Area, a livable wage is difficult,” Sullivan said. “Housing is so expensive in the area that in order to live here, you have to make a significant wage. The good news is the construction industry can pay that wage.”

Training included 10 days of direct instruction with ABC Norcal, in which students completed their Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour course and learned National Center for Construction Education modules encompassing construction basics and carpentry and electrical fundamentals. Students also qualified for a pre-apprenticeship certification to get into a construction apprenticeship program faster after they graduated.

“We focus on trades right now that are in need,” said Sergio Cortez, ABC Norcal Workforce Development Lead Craft Instructor. “The industry right now in construction has been hurting. We need skilled trades; we just don’t have enough.”

Cortez ultimately wants the program to become “a conduit between industry and employees who need work.”

It is designed to give [our students] the skills to get into the workforce here in Oakland, which needs entry-level professionals,” he said. “But also this is a job opportunity that really, for the most part, pays a high, livable wage.”

During the last week of the course, Salvation Army staff took over to teach the participants employment readiness soft skills, such as resume guidance, interviewing skills and techniques, and how to apply for a job. Sullivan said he wants to hold the program four times each year, moving 40 people into full-time construction employment annually.

One student, Shjondel Curtis, is looking forward to his new career path in construction. He previously worked in the financial services industry for three years before being connected to The Salvation Army and referred to the program.

“It’s a good transitioning career,” Curtis said. “The fact that you can take this one class and end up being a carpenter…an electrician [or] a plumber—there’s a multitude of facets in terms of what all can be accomplished. Living in California, you have to have an opportunity to have a competitive salary.”

Sullivan noted there’s a strong future for workforce development in Alameda County. Beyond the Construction Training Program, The Salvation Army is looking to add a culinary training program and a certified nursing assistant program at the Garden Street Center.

“We need to do more of the next step [with our clients],” Sullivan said. “We need to equip those who have been through our program to be successful in a career and in life.”

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