Look for more youthful faces under the hard hats when the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) begins work on a major I-94 construction through Detroit in 2019.
The estimated $2.5 billion project will rebuild the highway, service roads and bridges on a seven-mile stretch between Conner Avenue and I-96. The work includes replacement of 67 structures, plus new drainage and utilities, as well as the potential to add six to eight new bridges (pending federal approval). The newly added bridges will be “complete streets” to provide multi-modal access for cars, bikes and pedestrians with wider walkways/paths separating walkways from traffic.
Bridge work will start next spring at Gratiot and Mt. Elliot, with a plan to rebuild the freeway come 2020.
More skilled trade workers are needed for the project and those receiving federal money require a percentage of workers from a disadvantaged business enterprise or the company can be fined significant dollars. This can, however, fluctuate from job to job, according to Rob Morosi, MDOT spokesperson for the I-94 project.
More of those jobs will be filled by faces of color thanks to complex funding for skilled trades education by a host of MDOT partners. One such educational program takes place at Randolph Career Technical Center and is funded by MDOT, the Detroit Public School Community District, area businesses and foundations. Randolph Career Technical Center is considered to be at the vanguard of vocational education, and has scheduled Apprenticeship Expositions to explore job opportunities and simulate work practices.
The umbrella program urging urban high schoolers and young adults to learn skills and become apprentices is called the Partnership for Diversity and Opportunity for Transportation. This advocacy group consists of unions, businesses, government, and nonprofit representatives working together to stimulate paying careers.
Randolph’s new, hands-on classrooms and curriculum includes $3.5 million in funding from MDOT and the Gordie Howe Bridge Workforce Training, $1.75 million from the City of Detroit Workforce Training Fund, $1.5 million from the Wilson Foundation and $1.1 million from DTE Energy.
“I’m hooking up stuff to help rebuild Detroit.” -DeMarcus Holton
“We’re seeing a major partnership for diversity, opportunity and transportation,” says Renee Prewitt, owner of the Detroit-based Prewitt Group, and a consultant to the partnership.
“Getting jobs is a critical step forward,” she says. “To help in that endeavor, we’re doing community roundtables, appearing at area events and getting people up to speed about the I-94 project.”
Once individuals are trained and apprenticed, they could earn $24 to $45 an hour on highway construction jobs.
Apprenticeship training is underway at the high school, where students attend a half day of academics and a half day of training. The program is also open to community members who attend at night.
Participants must have at least a tenth-grade level of proficiency in reading and math, a requirement in order to read blueprints and to measure materials.
DeMarcus Holton, who spends a half day at Randolph and a half day at his home school of Mumford, is delighted by the remodeled classroom and the lessons learned. “I’m hooking up stuff to help rebuild Detroit,” he says.
Students get a combination of employable skills, hands-on experience, safety and work-based learning opportunities in carpentry, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), masonry, electrical, plumbing, pipefitting, heavy equipment operation, computer automated design and business.
“A high percentage of skilled-trades workers are reaching the point of retiring. We don’t have the bench strength within the industry to fill some of these jobs. Renee Prewitt is charged with demystifying the efforts to get young people into skilled trades and encourage them to receive the proper training,” says MDOT’s Morosi.
Highway reconstruction jobs will include skills in truck driving, operations engineering, bulldozers and the operation of heavy machinery. It may be dirty work, but the pay is rewarding, Morosi adds.
To help more people get to these jobs, which often start at 6 a.m. and finish by 11 p.m., some employers are looking into buses and car pools.
Vocational skills are vital to Detroit, says Tim Moran, a history professor at Wayne State University.
“We have the wealth, the natural resources and the time to do huge infrastructure projects,” he says. “Too many of our people have skills that set them out of sync with the new technical and manufacturing advances. If we invest in your youth, we will build up our natural soundness with resources that will keep paying for themselves for the next century.”
A push is also on nationally to build up vocational trades. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that only 68 percent of high school students attend college and only 40 percent of students starting college complete their program. These young people are prime candidates for acquiring a skill that will provide them with a successful career.
“I’ve been fixing things since I was a kid. I figure I’ll have a nice career when I graduate,” says Erick Redden, an afternoon student at Randolph.
Editor’s Note: How do candidates get on board? Call Randolph Career Technical Center at 313-494-7100.