Thu July 26, 2012
City Residents Training to Work on RCSD Modernization Project
The Rochester City School District is about to start a multi-million dollar school modernization project, creating hundreds of construction jobs. But who will get those jobs?
The district is required by law to try and find ways to put more women and minority construction workers on the project. There’s a plan in place to do that, and hundreds of city residents are currently learning construction trades. However, there are questions as to whether they’ll be hired when the shovels hit the dirt.
In part one of a two part report, an examination of the Joint School Construction Board’s diversity plan.
It's 6 a.m. and Erika Davis is getting 16-month old Jair ready for the day.
“You ready to go to daycare? You ready to go?”
The 23-year old, single mom tosses a mesh tote over her shoulder. Inside: a hard hat, lime green workers vest and calculator. Davis is one of nearly 200 city residents learning a building trade through a pre-apprenticeship program called the ROAR Academy.
"Good morning Ms. Sheila. “Alright, Doo-Doo, I'll see you at 3 O'Clock. I love you."
The academy was created by city and school district officials to help increase diversity hiring. They had to in order to get state funding for planned renovations to a dozen school buildings. Minorities have to make up 20% of the workforce, and women 7%.
“The curriculum is very intense,” says Nicole Jefferson co-owns C.C.P or Career, Compliance and Placement. It’s the company the board hired to set up the training.
“They are in competition every day,” she says. “If they are not conscious of their attire, their mental aptitude and physical… they all have to take the state of New York’s test to get into the apprenticeship themselves. This is the part to get them ready.”
Jefferson says that includes polishing resumes and improving interview and communication skills. Participants also get help earning their GED’s and cleaning up bad licenses. Davis attends a math class everyday as part of her training to get into the roofers union.
"It is really like they are holding our hands and talking us step by step, which is really intimate,” Davis says. “It’s a really good experience. So I made a commitment and I’m going to stick with it."
Jefferson says the program is more than give city residents an occupational skill.
"You are trying to change people's quality of life,” Jefferson explains. “I think people sometimes forget that part. They’re looking at it as a job; this is not Wal-Mart. No, it's a career that's going to change your life."
The program drew over one thousand applicants on its first day.
Board member Jerome Underwood says that was more than triple the board’s enrollment expectations.
We didn't realize that so many people were going to show up," he says. “However with the economy the way it is, there are a lot of people on the bench-unemployed, underemployed. So the response was wonderful, overwhelming wonderful."
Twenty-percent of African Americans and Latinos living in Rochester are unemployed. And many of those in the program don’t have jobs. That includes Davis, who's been without work for the past 2 years. Her unemployment ran out in March. So when the pre-apprenticeship program came up, Davis says she had to take it.
“It is very challenging but you can't sit back and wait for somebody to hand you something,” Davis says. “If I want something, i have to earn it. And if that's what I have to do to feed my child, I’ll do it. ”
Davis climbs a ladder 32 feet onto the roof of the old Maynard’s building on North Clinton Avenue. That’s where she’s getting hands on experience with a sawzall – cutting away old, tarnished sheet metal from a leaky roof.
Students work 8 hour days Monday through Friday without wages. Since February, many participants have dropped out. Underwood says those that are left are very dedicated.
“They’re making a significant investment in themselves,” says Underwood. “And we really, really, really want to go to bat for them, in terms of making sure, though we can’t guarantee them jobs, we want to put them in positions to be needed.”
Participants graduate from the program at the end of July.