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Program helps build careers in construction

Program helps build careers in construction

Frank Perrone (left) and Roy Boatner learn how to install attic insulation at the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Center in Racine. (Photo By Benny Sieu)

Felicia Thomas-Lynn / Journal Sentinel

March 01, 2010

Kevin Fintak wants a career that will last.

He thought he had one as a carpenter building residential homes, but last year, after nine years on the job, he was laid off – among the many casualties of a worsening economy.

Now, Fintak sees roads as the answer. “There is always going to be road work in the future,” said the Caledonia father of two small children.

“The way housing is, you never know how it’s going to be,” he said. “I’m trying to pick a career I know will be there for a while.”

Helping him make the transition is Human Capital Development Corp.

The Racine-based, nonprofit organization created First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Center nearly five years ago to give low-income, unemployed or underemployed workers who are interested in a construction skilled trades career the skills needed to land jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.

“There was this need in the community, particularly to increase the number of minorities and women in the building trades,” said Olatoye “Ola” Baiyewu, executive director of the organization, which takes a holistic approach to training workers starting with teaching life skills, résumé writing and anger management to certification in a wide variety of areas including OSHA standards, CPR, crane and tool operation.

“We want our people to be head and shoulders with everyone else,” Baiyewu said. Though the center had a modest beginning, enrolling six participants during its first year, the numbers have steadily increased.

Of the 127 participants who enrolled last year, 100 completed the program, 76 passed the apprenticeship qualifying test and 52 landed construction jobs, earning an average wage of $20 an hour, Baiyewu said.

First Choice workers have taken part in numerous major construction projects throughout southeastern Wisconsin including the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek, Marquette Interchange and Fortaleza Hall, the newest building on the S.C. Johnson campus.

“We believe this program is a positive force for change and economic development in the Racine community,” said Kelly M. Semrau, vice president of global public affairs and communication for S.C. Johnson, a financial supporter of the center.

“Whether it’s through training, skill enhancement or job placement, this program helps motivated people improve their skills and expand their job opportunities,” Semrau said.

The center’s six-week training sessions take place three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – for four hours on each of those days.

Fintak is among a group of trainees set to graduate next month from the center, which was one of the recent stops on the Clean Energy Roadshow, a multi-city, multi-state national tour aimed at finding ways to spur collaborative public-private investment in the weatherization industry to create green jobs.

Trainees have also acquired the weatherization skills needed to create energy-efficient buildings and homes and are well-positioned to take advantage of green job opportunities when they become available, Baiyewu said.

“Green employment is a new phenomenon that eventually is going to take off,” he said. “If somebody wants a green job, they have to understand the building trades.”

Program participants, who must be 18 years or older, have a high school diploma or a GED and valid driver’s license, don’t have to be squeaky clean. In fact, several graduates, who have gone on to find solid employment, once served time behind bars.

“I came from a lifestyle of gang, drugs and violence,” said Joseph E. Barker Jr., one of the program’s earlier graduates, who has been gainfully employed since completing the program.

“It changed my life. I work for one of the largest construction companies in the area,” he said. “I am a journeyman in construction work now and can go anywhere in America to work.”

Human Capital Development Corp./First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Training Center

Mission: To improve employment opportunities for unemployed and underemployed individuals interested in a construction skilled trades career.

Address: 1437 Marquette St., Racine, WI 53404

Phone: (262) 633-3285

Faces of Hope focuses on Milwaukee-area people who need a hand and the organizations that are helping them. If you have story ideas, e-mail Felicia Thomas-Lynn at fthomas-lynn@journalsentinel .com or call (414) 224-2073.

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