Residents of one Southwest Detroit neighborhood witnessed a recent transformation courtesy of the city’s innovative, new construction trades program.
Members of the Access for All training initiative, launched by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, gained hands-on experience by cleaning up five parcels of vacant land in Springwells Village, as part of a collaboration with Urban Neighborhood Initiatives and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324.
Open to Detroit residents, Access for All provides an intensive, nine-week curriculum to prepare students for apprenticeship readiness in professions ranging from carpentry and bricklaying to electrical and cement masonry. The April training event doubled as a work exercise and community improvement effort.
“That’s probably the main thing about the program – the exposure,” says Robski Neal, who participated in the training. “They give you ideas you might not have thought about – building brick walls and things like that, or being an electrician, or operating heavy equipment.”
Neal, 44, and fellow Access for All student Courtland Scott, 33, joined a team during Access’ coordinated training.
“Nothing takes the place of real-world construction site experience, and that is exactly what Access for All students get during the hands-on training week,” says executive director of the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund. “Safety is a priority in the construction industry, and working safely under a variety of weather conditions is just one of the things students learn and take with them after the nine-week class ends.”
Access is open to Detroiters of various experience levels and educational backgrounds. Scott, who attended college, discovered the program after he’d initially hoped to enter the automotive industry, but experienced a delay.
“It opens the door for people who are willing to walk through it,” he says of Access for All. “It basically gives people the opportunity to develop the skills they already have and then learn new skills along the way.”
More than 91 percent of Access for All graduates find employment, and more than 67 percent enter two- to five-year construction apprenticeship programs, a significant increase for Detroiters who are underrepresented in the field, program leaders say.
Companies supporting the training event included Michigan CAT, Kaltz Excavating, Blaze Contracting, Inc., R.L. Coolsaet Construction Co., Operating Engineers Local 324 and its Training Center, which donated heavy equipment. Michigan Laborers’ Training & Apprenticeship Institute and Laborers’ Local 1191 donated personnel and hand tools.
Springwells Village residents were impressed by the skills Access for All students demonstrated, says Urban Neighborhood Initiatives Executive Director Christine Bell.
“Our Springwells neighbors were very excited to see all of the work that took place throughout the week, helping to transform each property into worthwhile, usable community space,” Bell says. “The project also validated how important it is to have experienced professionals from the union mentor students with the goal of creating entry ways to financially rewarding careers.
“We would welcome the opportunity to once again work with Access for All and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 in the future.”
Photos by Paul Engstrom